I know that U.S. auto manufacturers have achieved a massive improvement in their products and reliability. The feedback from the recent auto show supports this. I think their brands are still a problem, and will continue to hurt the public perception of their new and improved cars.
I'll support this point of view with an anecdote. I have a colleague who is shopping for a new car. He is going to purchase one within the next 30 days. We were discussing the cars he was considering, and he indicated that he has looked at a lot of American cars but could not find one he wanted to buy. Of the Chevy Malibu, which has been praised by industry experts and highly recommended to him, he said "there is no way I'd buy Chevy Malibu because it is a Chevy Malibu."
Therein lies their problem. For 30-years American designed and manufactured automobiles were inferior and the brands are now tarnished for anyone between the ages of 30 and 60 -- the very people the most likely to have the buying power to afford a new car. Buicks are a success in China in part because the Chinese consumer never had to drive an old Buick LeSabre in the early 1980s. That is the terrible crime behind Saturn. GM, of all companies, successfully launched a new brand that achieved a reputation for quality and brand experience. Then they wrecked it by starving the company of resources so the could reinvest in old, tarnished brands. Yes, they made better cars with that reinvesment, but it takes a very long time to change brand perception. And the cars aren't the only thing that needs to change. Much of the mass media advertising and marketing of the U.S. auto manufacturers remains outdated and out of touch with the taste and preferences of American consumers, and the dealer experience also lags behind foreign competitors.