Despite its recent history of ups, downs and bailouts, Americans have always been able to count on the cars they buy from domestic manufacturers to come with the highest level of quality. Now for the first time in 16 years, that assumption may be in jeopardy, at least according to one recent report.
The decline in quality comes from a number of engine and transmission problems creeping into automobiles manufactured in the United States over the last three years. The study looked at 100 different 2011-model vehicles which were introduced in 2010. While 2009 had the unfortunate distinction of being the year after auto sales hit a 28-year low and the worst point of the Great Recession, 2010 unfortunately was not much better.
Of those 100 vehicles, 133 different problems were reported, according to the U.S. vehicle dependability survey by J.D. Power. It is the first reported increase in the average number of problems in 16 years.
There are several things that could be blamed on this sudden drop in quality. It was the middle of the worst economic slowdown since the Great Depression, and many might argue that quality problems were to be expected. The majority of American automakers were laying off workers, closing plants and taking bailouts from the Federal Government.
Some may point the finger at the fact that the United Auto Workers has been slowing losing its control over the industry over the past few years. In 1999, the UAW built 85% of all the cars and trucks built in the United States. In 2013, that number had dropped to just 54%. While right-to-work law advocates may cheer this change, others may find it more than just a coincidence that the quality dipped during a time when union participation has been receding.
Still, the news is not all bad for the American automobile industry. According to a report from Auto News, a record number of new American cars and trucks are expected to be exported during 2014. Thanks to growing demand from nations like Saudi Arabia and China, an estimated 1.8 million cars will be shipped overseas this year.
Whether or not this drop in quality is just an anomaly, or a harbinger of more bad things to come remains to be seen.