In 1990, Buick advertised extensively that a survey of over 26, 000 new-car buyers had revealed that Buick was the only American car line ranked in the top 10 in initial quality based on owner reported problems during the first 90 days. Buick featured in its ads, a list of the top-10 automobiles in the survey, in which it was ranked fifth: behind Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, and Infiniti and ahead of Honda, Nissan, Acura, BMW, and Mazda.
All nine of these other car lines are Japanese or German. In his nationally syndicated column, “High Five Is Goodbye Wave, Not the Symbol of Quality,” August 23, 1990, columnist George Will somewhat berated Buick for bragging about only being fifth. He stated that the “We’re Number One” boasts of wining college football players and their fans may be “mistaken, and the passion may be disproportionate to the achievement, but at least it is better than chanting ‘We’re Number Five. ”’ Mr.
Will noted that such ads imply, “Don’t expect us to measure up to the big boys – the ones overseas. ” He wanted Americans to become “impatient and censorious about lax standards (We’re Number 5) that are producing pandemic shoddiness in everything rom cars to art to second graders’ homework. ” Mr. Will ended his column: “Americans would feel better, and might be more inclined to buy Buick, if they saw an ad reprinting the list above, but with a text that says: ‘Fifth place is not nearly good enough for Americans to brag about.
And until we do better, we apologize! ”’ Mr. Will may well have been correct that many U. S. firms were not producing products up to the quality standards of many foreign firms. We want to point out, however, that his criticism of Buick’s boast of being number five as indicative of shoddy American quality may not have been quite valid. In fact, it may be great to be “Number Five”.