Are the Big Three failing because their brands don’t match our values?

QUICK! Here are 10 models of cars. Click on COMMENT and tell us what word or phrase you associate with each one.
GO —

PONTIAC
CHEVROLET
CADILLAC
HUMMER
MUSTANG
BUICK
JEEP
COBALT
PRIUS
LEXUS

Hummer
    Please — give me your first reaction in your comment, but let me suggest what we may find in our responses to this list. I bet it’s easier to come up with values association for Prius and Lexus than it was for Chevrolet, Cadillac, or any of the other brands Detroit offers. I submit that the failure of US automakers to connect with our values is a big part of their current woes.
    Sure, many other things factor into our decisions. But values are key factors. I introduced this idea in August when I reported on research that documented a strong link between patriotism and what we buy. For example, consumers who love their country favor domestic brands when they could get better value by buying imported products. Patriotic investors invest too much in domestic companies.
    Warren Buffett appealed to this patriotism-purchase link when, in a now-famous New York Times op-ed, he urged us to “buy American.” There are now nearly 700,000 Web pages that make reference to Buffett and his “buy American” appeal. He obviously struck a nerve.
    Another study shows that global demand for US autos shifts as our basic values change. As people develop a constellation of values we call “self-expression values” (concerns for quality of life, human rights, environment, well-being, etc.), they shift away from American auto brands. For people with these values, brands like Prius and Lexus become more attractive.
    Guess who is at the leading edge of the movement toward “self-expression” values? Americans. Thus, it’s not surprising to see the decline of US auto brands in our own country. The Big Three need more than a massive restructuring. They need to make cars that appeal to our basic values.
    Tell us, as well: What do you think of this thesis?

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