American cars are perceived to be not as reliable as their Asian counterparts and not as refined as their European competitors.
The former reputation might not be well deserved. I have a Ford still on the road after 150k and I was told it would be dead by now. Fixing it up is still cheaper than replacing it and I think it has a long way to go. I think people tend to trash their car's interior or paint long before the Engines become impossible to maintain. However, you don't build a reputation as a maker of reliable vehicles until people are driving vehicles that you made long after their supposed shelf life, and it takes a long time to establish such a reputation.
As for the later issue, driving in Europe/Japan and the US is very different. Europeans drive smaller cars around old cities. Long road trips are not fathomable on the scale you see in the US without multiple border crossings and even then, why not take the train? (Same is true for Japan.) A typical American car would be worse than useless in a European city. The European cars that tend to make it over here are luxury vehicles that are prized for their refinement rather than their general utility. Normal Europeans do not drive Ferraris or BMW 7 series. I don't think the big three really compete with BMW/Mercedes/Lexus, and we have precious few brands that hold a candle to European super cars, principally the Corvette, which does have the advantage of being accessible to the average guy and not designed primarily for purchase by dukes and lords.
What we do well is allowing people to express themselves with their vehicles. Big Hemis, Redneck pickup trucks, bling Escalades, fun Jeeps, these are cars that are worn more than driven. Toyota Corollas hardly have the same personality, although Toyota seems to have figured this out. Whether you want an American car or an Asian car remains mostly a question of whether you want a car that is fun or practical.
I do think the government, particularly California, has fucked both electric vehicles and diesel by pushing the technologies too hard, although both seem to be catching up and I think both make a lot of sense technically.
I think, basically, the big three were not set up financially to see a massive demand collapse, and that is exactly what happened. It is happening across the board. It is certainly the case that the Japanese government, near the end of its massive financial crisis, has thrown money at it's auto makers. It is also the case that an abrupt bankruptcy of the big three would have significant systemic effects in the economy. This is a great way to kick off having large groups of homeless unemployed roaming the country for our Great Depression 2.0. I understand the case for these bailouts WAY better than I understand the case for TARP. So I'm not too troubled by the prospect of giving them loans. There may be a time/place to take them off life support, but this isn't it.
RE: Show Of Hands