I guess it depends on what you are comparing them too. My buddy was shopping for a new car around '08 and we popped into the local BMW dealer to look around. We over heard another customer badmouthing a Chevy he once owned and I recall thinking "$20k Chevy:$40k+ BMW::apple:orange". It is also bit disingenuous to compare a car that is produced in the hundreds of thousands to one produced in the tens of thousands. I wouldn't compare a Camry to a 530i or a Cadillac either.
The biggest issue that the domestic brands have had to contend with is what people see and have seen. Fit, finish and the (apparent) lack of quality materials, and lowest bidder parts really hurt them from the minute people first sit in in them. The interiors are were they should have been ten years ago for them to be truly competitive. For example: I'll argue, from my experience, that GM has the best truck power-trains (engine, trans, t-case, axles). You will be putting a cat in it at some point (an issue that isn't limited to GM), but they are otherwise solid. The thing that turns people off is that the paint will rub off every radio button, the rear dust shields will rot out after 30k, the steering will clunk, etc. It isn't the trans blowing up after 150,000 miles that makes people unhappy, it is all the piddly annoying stuff that drives people nuts and gives the impression that the manufacturer doesn't care.
To be 100% fair the big three have a stigma attached to their wares stemming from the crap they produces from the mid-70s through the mid-90s. A lot of that was them resting on their laurels, a lot of it was a culture of "good enough", and a lot of it was union related. (I could write a long essay on that, but it is 0400 and I'm at work.) GM has long been a retirement management that built cars on the side and that in addition to other union obligations limits your ability to spend the money and make the other needed changes to correct those issues. These limitations are not a burden to European and Japanese makers.
I spent 9 years at a GM/Chrysler dealer (I work at a Ford/Toyota dealer now) and I have seen why they've lost market share. GM was run by bean-counters and didn't start to turn things around until Lutz/Wagner took over. They squeezed suppliers and got mediocre parts - when they could get them at all. They would re-engineer some parts for cost, but would fail to fix nagging quality issues (see the above steering clunk). Ugly looking trim gaps and cheap looking plastics make older GMs appear inferior to the competition and they suffered for it. All combined over the long term to tun people off.
I don't mean to be picking on GM (everyone has issues). It is simply the manufacturer I have the most experience with. I will say, that before things went sideways they really seemed to be on the right track. The imported Holdens (GTO and G8) and old Saturn (Domesicly assembled
Opels) showed what the company was capable of when they didn't have the baggage. Holden is and Sauturn was a wholly owned subsidiary and not part of GM proper. If every car they made was perfect it would still take a generation for the sins of the past to be forgiven.
Ford is an example how to turn things around. They started a bit earlier than GM fixing the interior issues. I'd say mostly from Volvo. THey picked up a lot of technology and know-how from the acquisitions and partnerships they made during the Nasser era and were later guided by some guy who's last name happens to be Ford
. Having Ford at the head of Ford can't be stressed enough He cares about product and understood that that is what was needed to turn things around - not incentives of the week and a gazillion fleet/rental sales. Having distinctive, seemingly well assembled, good handling cars made people look at them again and has allowed them to grow sales and actualy turn a real profit.
Ford was the best thing that happened to Jag, Aston Martin, and Land Rover. Driving any one of is nice until you had to fix them. Repairs were an frequent and expensive proposition. Lucas Electric: prince of darkness. Comparing them to the big three is a distraction because all three of them operate in very different markets, at much higher price points, and wouldn't exist if Ford didn't invest billions in capitol to un-f**k them in the 90s and 2000s.
Just for the record:
I've spent the better part of 11 years in the auto business. Seeing what used-cars need is very telling indeed.
MY first car was a '95 Monte Carlo Z34 I loved that car. A suburban blowing though an intersection did that one in.
*An '85 Caprice POS (for $500 I got what I paid for)
*A '95 Civic with 250k. I hated that car. It was uncomfortable and under powered.
*A '95 Chevrolet Impala SS. I loved that car. It was fast, comfy, and handled far better than any car that size should. Black ice killed her around 230,000 miles
*A '00 Neon that nickel and dimed me until I killed it just shy of 130k.
I now drive a 2009 Corolla. I bought it because I have a long commute and I got the best financing though Toyota's certified pre-owned program. I was a hairs breath from buying a '06 GTO
Jeremy Clarkson reviewing trucks is like having Philly citiy councilmen review firearms- bit out of their depth. The US version's comparison of the HD duellies was entertaining and informative.
I'd like to see the UK review of the Raptor just to see how ignorant they can be.