Thursday, April 22, 2010

Americans' love for U.S. cars rises

WASHINGTON — America's love affair with the automobile has a new spark — a renewed affection for U.S.-made cars after a long dalliance with foreign automakers.
Slightly more Americans now say the United States makes better-quality vehicles than Asia does, with 38 percent saying U.S. cars are best and 33 percent naming autos made by Asian countries, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll.

The survey suggests those numbers are largely fueled by a plunge in Toyota's reputation and an upsurge in Ford's. The poll was conducted in March, as Toyota was being roiled by nightmarish publicity over its recall of more than 8 million vehicles around the globe and allegations that it responded sluggishly to safety concerns.

Though the U.S. advantage is modest, it marks a significant turnabout for American automakers battered by recession and relentless competition from foreign manufacturers.

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When the same question was asked in a December 2006 AP-AOL poll, 46 percent said Asian countries made superior cars, while just 29 percent preferred American vehicles, reflecting a perception of U.S. automotive inferiority that began taking hold about three decades ago.

"Toyota's problems are not to be minimized here," David Williams, dean of the business administration school at Wayne State University in Detroit, said in explaining the attitude shift.

In both AP polls, Japan — home to brands such as Toyota, Honda and Nissan — was by far the dominant Asian nation volunteered as producing the best cars. European autos — which include BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen — were called top quality by 15 percent last month, about the same as four years ago.

Williams and others also cited a fresh look Americans are giving U.S. automakers, especially Ford and General Motors. GM has revamped its lineup with more fuel-efficient and crossover vehicles. Analysts say Ford revived its reputation by not accepting the taxpayer bailout and improving its vehicles' gasoline mileage.

Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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