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Automotive Traveler Magazine: Vol 3 Iss 3 Page 7

of the conference--but distracted walking is evidently a problem, too.

The opening night's speaker was futurist and well-known author Malcolm Gladwell on the topic of change. He discussed the past, using the changes to baseball's reserve clause as an example. (The reserve clause was a bylaw that bound a baseball player to the team that originally drafted him--a form of indentured servitude, in Mr. Gladwell's view.)

He contended that the elimination of the reserve clause in 1975 was the catalyst that powered salary increases across many jobs and professions. I'm not sure I totally buy into the importance he ascribes to this development.

With a column title of "Rear View Mirror," I look to the past a great deal, too, trusting it will give me some insight moving forward. And I believe a much more important paradigm shift took place in the Seventies, one that altered forever the domestic auto industry and, by extension, much of our cultural and business landscape. The 1973 OPEC oil embargo literally changed things for everyone!

The embargo was a seismic shock to our collective system. Detroit was still building gas guzzlers and terrible small cars--think the Chevy Vega and Ford Pinto.

So Toyota, Datsun (now Nissan), and Honda were in a perfect position to capitalize. Introducing the right-sized Accord in 1975 and then opening the first transplant assembly plant in Ohio in 1982, Honda experienced tremendous growth.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Toyota, Honda, and Nissan continued to cement their reputations for manufacturing high-quality compact cars, a reputation that endures to this day.

Perception is reality, as they say, and Toyota, Honda, and Nissan have maintained that perception in the hearts and minds of American car buyers, whether or not it always coincided with reality.

The result has been that, for two generations, new car buyers have shunned domestic-branded vehicles, some to the degree they have not once set foot in a Chrysler, Ford, or GM showroom in the last 35 years.

It took a tsunami producing a short-age of Japanese-built cars and a massive quality downfall at Toyota for these biases to be overlooked, and in some instances, changed.

Two decades from now, when historians and futurists like Mr. Gladwell look back, I believe they will see a paradigm shift back in the direction of what we once called the Big Three. Whatever the reason, fair or unfair, buyers will return to their showrooms.

These lost generations of consumers will give the Big Three a fair shake, seeing that all three are building class-competitive (and in some instances world-class) cars that stand on their own merits. This is an important shift, one whose significance will take years to measure.