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The United States will raise about 270 million turkeys this year,
more of which will come from Minnesota than any other state, according
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
But the biggest turkeys in America waddle out of Detroit.
They weigh thousands of pounds and come with badges that say things
like "Saturn" or "GMC." And although Japan and
South Korea are represented here, our list of ten automotive turkeys
dishonors more cars from America--six--than from any other place.
Of our foreign-built turkey award winners, the Hyundai Tiburon,
Isuzu Rodeo and Kia Spectra are not manufactured under American
supervision; DaimlerChrysler (nyse: DCX - news - people ) governs
Mitsubishi and its tired Diamante.*
So, to carve, er, commemorate those cars in 2003 that either were
deemed unsafe by the federal government, are headed for discontinuation,
were recalled most, are depreciating faster than foreign competitors
and/or have had disappointing or declining sales, we would like
to recognize them with our first annual turkey awards. And don't
just take our word for it. In order to determine which cars, even
some that we actually like, earned a spot on the list, we culled
the worst-performing cars from reports issued by such organizations
as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Insurance
Institute for Highway Safety and the Kelley Blue Book.
You would be tarred and feathered for saying this in Detroit, but
the majority of these turkeys go to American cars. There seems to
be some truth to the idea that Motown is building subpar cars. You
will not find any German manufacturers on our list--nor, unsurprisingly,
many luxury nameplates.
There are also a number of American cars we could have dubbed turkeys
but did not. Like the Chevrolet Cavalier, from our list, the Chevrolet
Astro, GMC Safari, Pontiac Montana, Chevrolet Venture, Dodge Dakota
and Pontiac Grand Am all received "poor" frontal crash
test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The
reason why these potential turkeys are avoiding our axe is that,
while they have scored poorly in some areas evaluated by the IIHS,
they are not as generally low-scoring in multiple areas as the cars
we did cite.
We were also tempted to include the half-hearted Mercury Marauder,
a muscle car derivative of the boat-sized Grand Marquis, but Mercury
does not single out Marauder's performance when reporting sales
of the Grand Marquis. Chrysler's new Pacifica wagon also looked
to be a disappointment, but sales are getting closer to Chrysler's
targets as the company increases the percentage of lower-priced
Pacificas in its inventory mix so we will reserve judgment for the
Except in the case of Saturn, we take no delight in picking on
easy targets. In fact, we even ended up choosing one or two cars
that we actually enjoy, like the Hyundai Tiburon. It has a good
V-6 engine and transmission, channeled through a quick, sporty shifter.
The Saturn Ion, on the other hand, is the turkey that makes us
the most visibly annoyed. Making less cheap-looking or plastic-heavy
interiors is not Saturn's priority, but the automaker has refined
the original Ion's steering after the vehicle's first year on the
market, and added a 200-horsepower Red Line derivative.
Before Saturn honed the Ion's initially unsophisticated driving
dynamics, the company had to rely on fuzzy-wuzzy dealership experiences
and gimmicks like personalized roof trim to move the car. On Nov.
1, Saturn dealers were carrying a gigantic, 119-day supply of Ions,
up from 111 on Oct. 1. Ion's sales in 2003 through October, 98,303,
fall short of what GM (nyse: GM - news - people ) hopes it can eventually
sell: 150,000 to 200,000 Ions per year.
Saturn's reliance on satisfying customers at the dealership shouldn't
make GM's shareholders happy either. A recent survey by Oregon-based
CNW Marketing Research indicates that relying on nice dealers isn't
enough. Among automakers, CNW posited that strong customer satisfaction
results don't translate to profits. Building better cars does. In
its study CNW lists the amount of money an automaker could expect
to add to its transaction prices if the company were to improve
its CNW customer satisfaction score by one point (CNW's tests for
satisfaction are similar to J.D. Power's). Among automakers, Saturn's
transaction prices would show the most modest gains per one-point
improvement: $211.56 per vehicle, compared with $925.02 per vehicle
at Porsche, the company that has the most to gain from improving
satisfaction. Saturn will have a chance to put the emphasis on better
products when it replaces the L-300 sedan and wagon lines, whose
sales have been half of what GM expected, with a 2006 model hatchback.
This Thanksgiving, butter your biscuits, turn on the game, avoid
your annoying cousin--and help us carve up some crummy cars.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that General
Motors owns Isuzu and the Rodeo SUV. It reduced its equity share
in Isuzu from 49% in 1998 to a 12%, non-controlling stake in 2002.
In 2002 GM acquired majority ownership of Isuzu's diesel engine
businesses and its Duramax, Circle L 1.7-liter and V-6 diesel engine
Source: Forbes - Nov 25 3:42 AM - web site: http://www.forbes.com/execpicks/2003/11/24/cx_dl_1124feat.html
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