Take the New Nissan GT-R, this is a fabulous car which is faster round the nurburgring than a Mercedes Mclaren SLR, It has a 3.8 litre V6 with 493BHP. But a Nissan cube is uglier than a war wound and about as complicated as a piece of wood. The americans do not realize that there are actually bends in rounds so all their cars are woeful. French cars are relatively consistant. The french are one of the best in the world at making hot-hatchbacks. The Renaultsport clio, megane and twingo are fabulous cars.
So sometimes the Japanese make a better car, But sometimes the French Make a better car.
There are many reasons that the Japanese build better products than Americans and it has to do with their whole culture. The Japanese plan ahead for decades instead of just looking at the next fiscal quarter like they do in America. The Japanese examine every piece that will go into one of their cars to try to figure out where problems might arise and fix them before they happen. They are innovative and have seen the benefit of building fuel efficient and durable engines long before high fuel prices. BUT the single biggest reason is ARROGANCE.
The executives in charge of American auto companies only cared about themselves and their big fat salaries. They did everything possible to cut corners and cut costs to make even more money for greedy shareholders. They squeezed their parts suppliers so bad to cut costs that the only way to do so was to build inferior parts that would break long before they should. The American consumer suffered and took notice of their neighbours driving Toyota's for hundreds of thousands of miles problem free. The Japanese saw the long term benefits of building durable cars back in the 80s and now they are reaping the rewards. They are selling more cars than ever and the American automakers are in serious trouble. Pick up a Consumer Reports annual auto edition and read for yourself and compare the reliability ratings of US cars vs. Japanese cars and pay particular attention to the vehicles over 3 years old. Long term durability is the big question - ignore those "initial quality" reports by J.D. Power and Associates that only study durability for the first 90 days. Those reports are ridiculous.
I have a 2000 Honda Civic DX HB that is at about 140,000 miles and still going strong. Had it two years and it has very minor problems compared to those cars I had in my youth. Mostly Chevy cars and all burned out at 100,000 miles, or ten years old.
This car I have now is the best I have ever had.