By on February 7, 2011

Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad starring the city of Detroit and its new 200 sedan may have captured the imagination of American industry-watchers, but its timing was highly inauspicious. As the ad was launched, Chrysler was being thrust into a kind of transnational custody battle between US taxpayers and the Italian government, a battle that underscores the ambiguous benefits of national bailouts of multinational companies. At the same time, Chrysler workers have once again made news by getting caught partaking in controlled substances during a lunch break, an awkward representation of the culture of the city that Chrysler is so desperate to re-inspire faith in. And even outside of the controversies swirling around America’s most challenged domestic automaker, there are signs that the phenomenon that can be termed “automotive nationalism” is outliving its usefulness. Chrysler may argue that “what we make makes us,” but appeals to the national or regional character of a car are not simply misleading… they’re downright dangerous.

Of course, assigning national attributes to a vehicle is as old as car criticism itself. For much of the 20th Century, cars were products of nations first and consumer goods second, a perspective that helped shape much of the modern European automotive market, with such troubled brands as Seat and Lancia surviving solely due to strong home-market sales to patriotic citizens. And, for a good deal of the past century, the application of national stereotypes to automobile brands may even have had some basis in reality: Italian cars were full of character but somewhat unreliable, just as German cars really did embody the values of quality, exactitude and seriousness. At the same time, these perceptions were forged in a very different world from that which we now occupy. In the early days of the auto industry, national identity was the lens through which all economic and cultural artifacts were judged.

Today, the national character of automobiles is an increasingly tenuous concept. On a macro scale, most modern automobiles are remarkably similar in layout, performance and “character.” The differences between (for example) French, German, Japanese, American and Korean midsized family sedans are incredibly subtle, and offer little material evidence for any kind of national identity. Reliability, long a point on which to characterize entire nations’ automotive outputs, is no longer an acceptable price to pay for some other, more positive national characteristic (say, “character”). As has been suggested by neoliberal economic theorists, global competition has an intensely homogenizing effect. Though enthusiasts may bemoan the development, automotive identity has been largely benchmarked out of existence, and consumers have broadly benefited as a result.

And global competition hasn’t merely erased most of the allegedly national characteristics from cars in terms of the end user experience. From planning through production, every process involved in the creation of a vehicle has changed in ways which weaken any possibility of a connection between a national attribute and the finished product. After all, many modern vehicles are planned, designed, styled and produced in vastly different regions by vastly different cultures. For example, Hyundai’s Tucson was designed by a German, for a Korean company and is assembled in the American South. Similarly, the 200 that Chrysler is so eager to associate with Detroit is an Italian-led development of a US-produced vehicle (the Sebring) which was engineered by a joint German-American firm (Daimler Chrysler) on a Mitsubishi platform. And as if that weren’t enough, the exact same vehicle will be rebadged and sold as a Lancia Fulvia in Europe. And this vehicle represents Detroit how?

But again, the problem isn’t simply that cars don’t represent national identities any more… it’s that pretending they do is deeply dangerous. Perhaps nothing proves just how ripe “automotive nationalism” is for a trip to the ash heap of history like a recent episode of Top Gear, in which one of the globally popular show’s hosts attempted to apply this outdated perspective to the Mexican Mastretta sportscar. With shocking results. After all, if Italian cars are “flamboyant” and German cars are “relentlessly efficient,” why wouldn’t Mexican cars be “lazy, feckless and flatulent”? The problem with this wince-worthy moment isn’t so much that Top Gear’s well-traveled hosts seem to have no knowledge of Mexican culture beyond what they learned watching “Speedy Gonzalez,” but that they continue to put so much stock in their concept of “automotive nationalism” that they can’t tell the difference between analyzing a forthcoming automobile and parading their ignorance and prejudice before a global audience. In this clip you can watch as 20th Century thought breaks over the rocks of 21st Century reality, taking out the world’s best-known proponents of automotive culture in the process.

Of course, old ideas will always have deep resonance with people, and there’s no way to expect that automotive nationalism will simply disappear overnight. Indeed, Chrysler’s post-bankruptcy advertising has relied entirely on the concept that rebuilding lost American icons like Detroit and domestic manufacturing can be accomplished by buying their vehicles. These vehicles represent “us,” Chrysler tells America, and by buying them, we can support the disappearing but somehow still authentically American values that made this country great. But what are those values, really? Fiat-Chrysler is asking us to project our image of ourselves onto their vehicles, just as they’ll ask Italians to project their self-image onto Lancia-badged, Canadian-built Chrysler 300s… and the strategy may yet have enough legs on it to generate some short-term sympathy. But will it last?

In a word, no. Especially in mature markets like the US and Europe, consumption has long replaced production as a source of identity. With the rise of global communication, communities and identities are fragmenting anyway: people are free to choose and mold their identities, and as a result, global, interest-oriented communities are rapidly outstripping the importance of local, geographically-determined identities. And as this process continues, the car you drive and what it says about you has become far more important to the construction of identity than which car is built nearest to where you live. Chrysler’s thesis, that the things we make make us, is another lingering echo from the 20th Century: today, what we buy, not what we build, makes us.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

58 Comments on “Editorial: The Things We Buy Make Us...”


  • avatar
    criminalenterprise

    There’s always the aftermarket.

  • avatar
    catbert430

    Awesome article.
    Well thought out and beautifully written.

    +1

  • avatar
    ComfortablyNumb

    “…raising questions about the culture of the city that Chrysler is so desperate to re-inspire faith in.”

    I’ll assume you didn’t realize at the time of writing that you just baselessly and ignorantly insulted an entire region, one with more brilliant people than most regions could ever hope to have.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, you’re right… I can see how that portion came across as an insult. I’ve made a small edit to clarify that the news is simply awkward considering it comes just as Chrysler is holding up Detroit-ness as a source of pride.
      If you read the whole piece though, you’ll see that I’m saying the opposite of what you think I’m saying. The Jefferson North news is a tactical problem for Chrysler’s marketing, but my problem is with the strategy of selling cars on supposed national or regional characteristics. If you aren’t using hollow regional, pr patriotic appeals to sell cars, nobody will associate the behavior of your workers with the wider regional or national culture. And you won’t be perpetuating the kind of thinking that made Top Gear look so dismally out-to-lunch. Nor will you be fighting the future of fragmented identities, non-local communities and consumption-based perspectives.

    • 0 avatar
      ComfortablyNumb

      Thanks, Ed.

  • avatar
    threeer

    If not with a national perspective, then what?  Identify each vehicle only as an “Earth 3000?”  While I grant that is has become more and more difficult to truly distinquish where a vehicle originates, as was clearly shown last night where a well known European manufacturer exclusively produces a vehicle line in the USA for global consumption, it is still also true that BMW is considered a German company.  Until we become “one world” identifying ourselves (and our companies) by nationality will indeed continue.  The fact that Chrysler is attempting to infuse some pride in their product and also the city most associated with them is not a bad thing…Detroit needs the props.
    And please.  Can TTAC discontinue with the abject bias shown against Chrysler today (in more than one article)?  I agree that finding out that a number of employees were busted for drug use does not help their image, it is in no way a condition that affects only Chrysler.  While it doesn’t make it right that other companies have to deal with this, it comes off as being a uniquely Chrysler issue, and that strays far from “fair and balanced.”  Such continued one-sided reporting does little to further the credibility of this site…one that has carefully and rightlfully been fostered for so long.  I would think that after the immense infusion of cash given to both GM and Chrysler that all of us “investors” would be violently cheering them on in hopes of success so that we can see (some, if not all) of our money returned.  I know I am…

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      True.  What’s more, Chrysler is not the only one banking on Americans taking national identity into consideration when making purchases.  BMW had that ad touting that all their X3s are built in the USA.  And hasn’t Toyota advertised that all their trucks are made in the USA?

      In the end, though, I found it stranger that Chrysler chose to use Eminem to sell the 200, and Detroit, to the American public.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s extraordinarily talented, but is he the best thing about Detroit? 

    • 0 avatar
      Blue-S

      Yes!  It would be gratifying to see this site get the heck off Chrysler’s back.  The 200 may well be uniquely qualified to pitch its made-in-Detroit / made in USA chops: assembled in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, with a 2.4L engine from Dundee (Michigan) or a 3.6L from Trenton (Michigan), a transmission from Indiana and body panels likely stamped down-the-road at Chrysler’s Sterling Stamping plant.  Succeed or fail, the 200 is a Detroit product.  What have appliance-makers Toyota, Honda and Hyundai/Kia done in Detroit?

      More to the point:  When have marketers NOT pitched emotion? 

  • avatar
    bwell

    I really liked Chrysler’s ad, although I mostly agree with your comments about the futility of using nationalism to sell cars.

    But it’s a shame that they wasted this effort on a mediocre warmed-over Sebring that will soon be filling the lots of dealers, government agencies and rental fleets everywhere.

  • avatar
    VespaFitz

    I don’t really care where the home office is.
    A Chrysler 300 is no more an Italian car than it was a German car.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Toyota has plants in the US and in theory could climb on the assembled in the US bandwagon.  The same goes for Honda, Nissan and Hyundai.
     
    Chrysler’s spin resonates in that the once all-American brand is struggling against a field that seems to be dominated by overseas designs.  GM and Ford for now are steering clear of their Americaness, because they have overseas operations that are integral to their survival in the North  American market.
     
    Other than a future tie up with FIAT, the Chrysler and Dodge brands are pretty much North American entities.
     

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Toyota DOES climb on the assembled-in-US bandwagon. They’ve advertised it extensively, down to and including naming the number of US jobs they take credit for.
      They’ve also been praised for their marketing savvy in building their full-size pickup factory in Texas, because of that state’s stereotypical associations with rural/Western/American-ness.

  • avatar
    86er

    I agree fully that the cynical use of patriotism to sell vehicles is misguided if done in desperation; just plain wrong if done deliberately.

    These ads are troublesome because the clips are from the past, not the present or predictions of a bright future. 

    This whole debate reminds me a little of Olympic hockey.  The players are from the NHL, in large part; they all golf together, live outside their countries of birth, but they play under their flag once every four years.

    Everybody eats it up.  Maybe it’s the same with automobiles.

    Unless I’m mistaken, though, one part that doesn’t add up is why foreign automakers will deliberately make products that only sell in North America.  The new Passat, the Accord, even the Tundra come to mind. 

    • 0 avatar
      VespaFitz

      That’s a great analogy.
      On Super Bowl Sunday, does anybody really care that half the offensive line is under indictment? No, you just like to cheer for your team. What the hell is wrong with that?
      Whether the signature on the paycheck is Italian? Who cares if an American cashes it at the end of the day?
      I’m sick of all the navel gazing about this.
      Let’s get off our ass and build some cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Jerome10

      I was trying to think how to best reply to this post.  I think this comes very close to the point that I would like to (try to) make.  It is an international business (as is hockey), and yet at the same time there are nuances, there are things that make the vehicles what they are (history?  today’s market demands?), and they are passionate items for most of the world (again, like sports) that despite all the cross-border sharing that goes on still somehow has a passionate place in the heart, and what you drive makes a statement about who you are, what you value, how you like to drive, your position in the socio-economic scale etc. And so the article’s last line STILL applies, completely, to the auto industry.  Maybe we SHOULD buy cars the way we buy TVs or toothpaste, but we don’t. And that is what makes following this global industry so interesting. In the same way we are all humans, its the subtle differences, such as nationality, that make us all interesting too.
       
      I’m no Chrysler cheerleader.  I don’t know anyone who owns one.  I’m no America rah-rah, we’re infallible.  I have a respect for Detroit of yesterday and today, despite its problems.  And maybe those from the Motor City can chime in here, but I think Detroit, and in the past couple years now the rest of America, have experienced so much of what was “normal” collapse around them with seemingly little ability as an individual to change the way things were going.  Something like these ads or the appealing to the national character also work because every now and then we all need a boost to our fragile egos.  Maybe we need to be tougher, but sometimes I think seeing something like the 200 ad is the kinda thing that hits right to the core, that yes, things are bad, but that we, collectively, together, have done great things and despite the current situation in front of us, we have the ability to go beyond the greatness of the past.  Something as passionate as one’s car is a perfect way to convey this overall message.  Same as the way we are passionate about our country, where we’re from, the sports teams we love, the kids we love, and the cars we love.  No matter how screwed up your country, your hometown, your team, or your kids, and no matter how down you might be, you’ll always have that hope for greatness, and a little nudge at how good you were and how good you can be, today, I don’t think is a bad thing….even if at the end of the day the goal is only to sell a few more cars. Maybe a bit more pride in something wouldn’t be bad for all of us?
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      +1 to 86er on the troublesomeness (?) of the references only to the past.  The better ad would be to show these past clips and then tie them into clips of their shining assembly line and testing facilities while a voiceover explains how Chrysler is using state of the art, industry leading techniques to build better cars today.  too bad for false advertising laws.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I have to agree that you are largely correct, but I would add one point.  I was an economics major in college, and this has informed my point of view since then.  This is why I agree with most everything you say.  It is logical and correct.  Cars and trucks from all over the world compete in a given market, and those that satisfy the most buyers will be successful.  Over time, companies from all over the globe have recognized key charisteristics that have made for successful vehicles in various parts of the world.

    HOWEVER – we cannot ignore the emotional view.  While I know that Toyota and Honda have built mostly excellent vehicles for a long time, there is some emotional reaction to Chrysler or Ford or GM getting their games back on.  These are the companies that have made the cars that most of us in the US grew up with (particularly those of us over 50), and we have a history with these companies and their products. 

    There are some people who will buy from a “foreign” company because it is cool.  There are those who buy domestic because they are “made in USA.”  I believe that there are a lot more who buy “foreign” because of the perception (real or imagined) that the foreign vehicle is of higher quality.  There are a lot of people out there who, given a choice between a domestic and a foreign vehicle of equal quality, will choose the domestic.  Call it a “home team” effect.  So to sum it up, when we think with our heads, the Chrysler ad approach doesn’t matter.  When we think with our hearts, this approach can sway us.

    • 0 avatar
      shortthrowsixspeed

      agreed.  i’ve been looking at the compact hatchback market for a while looking for my next vehicle.  For quite a while it was Mazda 3 or VW (GTI) that had my top picks.  But with the incoming focus, there’s a new player in town.  Also, though i know that in the end I’m going to buy the car i think is best, I’m rooting for the focus. 

  • avatar
    philadlj

    That Mexican rantfest was one of Top Gear’s darkest moments. Had the heckling bit actually been funny, it wouldn’t have been, as Top Gear prides itself on leaving no nation out of the mud.

    This includes the UK itself, with their damning tour of once-grand, long-abandoned former production facilities. That was IMO one of their best commentaries.

    But these guys have been to Romania, Vietnam, Bolivia, Botswana, Iraq, New Orleans, and just about everywhere in between: they’re all three of them globetrotting millionaires. The places they visit are never what they expect, when they go there – for better or worse.

    They’ll have learned by now not to prejudge or cling to stereotypes. So I didn’t buy their ignorance or prejudice for an instant. They’re simply not as stupid as they were trying to sound. That means they’re trying to pull one over on us…and that always hurts the entertainment value for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Jellodyne

      I think the only thing for it is a full blown trip to Mexico. Maybe they can take in the Baja 500.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      Hammond’s rant was cringe inducing for a number of reasons, none the least of which is that it’s never cool to pick on the little guy.

    • 0 avatar
      JJ

      Though I thought the rant was unnecessary and a bit much when I saw it, all these racial issues are just not that big of a deal here in Europe like they are in the US (not that there aren’t big racial tensions cause there are, it’s just that in the media things like these aren’t so sensitive).

      Being Dutch myself, I vaguely remembered these reviews from TopGear;

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzwXmPuSFNc

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raCYPIOS6gM&playnext=1&list=PL73A2FC73FE23D95B

      Stereotype after stereotype after stereotype, but it’s just TG’s  style. Everybody has a laugh about it and that’s it…

      I remember a NASCAR commenter in the US was suspended for a week once because he said One Pablo had eaten a few too many tacos and that was supposedly racist. Over here a comment like that wouldn’t even register.

    • 0 avatar
      philadlj

      @Jellodyne – A Mexican/Central American trip would be great…though they were in South America very recently.

      @JJ – TopGear is adamant that they pick on nationalities, not races. So when they make fun of the Dutch, Germans, Mexicans, or this week, Albanians, they’re not making fun of racial groups, but nations.

      The presenters of Top Gear are obviously not racists…they just say things that often grab attention and spark controversy. No such thing as bad publicity and such.

    • 0 avatar
      The Doctor

      Although I’d agree that Hammond’s rant wasn’t particularly edifying, that’s mostly because it wasn’t funny and just came across as bitter. Far worse things have been said on Top Gear about people from various regions of the UK…

  • avatar
    mshenzi

    I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with a piece of automotive commentary.  It’s really thoughtful and provocative about globalization, contemporary culture, and modern history.  There are some particulars I’d question, but the big strokes of the argument are food for thought and discussion. 

    I teach a course on globalization, and always have my students reading about branding, the rise of global assembly lines, etc.  A few years ago I had students read and discuss the long manifesto/photo spread that Dave MacNeil placed as a WeatherTech ‘ad’ in several national magazines – it had elements of nationalism, but also something subtler about what it takes to make sustainable communities and a sustainable domestic economy.  MacNeil (and Andy Grove of Intel) think that the US needs to re-learn how to make things, not just buy them.  Edward N’s editorial on the Chrysler ads (and the TopGear flap) is a great counterpoint, and I may well use them with this year’s students. They’ll also enjoy having a grey-haired guy assign them to look at something with Eminem in it.

    • 0 avatar

      As Jeff Jacoby just pointed out recently, the US manufactures 46% more than China. We manufacture more than Japan and Germany combined. Only Japan and China export more manufactured goods than the US So the idea that we need to relearn how to make things is not accurate. We make plenty of things. It’s just that because of technology and productivity we need fewer factory workers. An auto assembly plant used to employ ~10,000 people, now they employ about 2,500.
      So there indeed are fewer Americans working in manufacturing. Most Americans don’t have a clue how things are made.
       

  • avatar
    snabster

    Are we talking about the BMW ad extolling American workers on the Chrysler one?  I get confused easily these days.
     
     

  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    99% of my life I was lied to. I just found out Chrysler employees do more dope than I do.
     

  • avatar
    ajla

    I disagree with your third and fourth paragraphs.
     
    Vehicular national identity may have been largely factored out of the midsize sedan segment by now  (although I don’t see anyone but German VW offering a diesel option and Japanese Honda offers an Accord with a 7100RPM redline), but it is still alive and well in many other competitive sets.

    • 0 avatar
      JJ

      I agree with you. Though arguably less than before, I still think the nationality of many cars is apparent from the product and to some extent I think that will be the case for a long time to come. 

      Sure, the rear of this new Grand Cherokee could have easily been on a CUV/SUV from, say, Toyota or KIA, but at the same time, brands like Alfa Romeo, BMW, some of the Italian exotics, Land Rover, Caddilac or Toyonda will probably for decades to come represent the countries they originated in (no matter that they’re owned by or build in other countries now…in fact, the whole issue about a brand from country X building a car in country Y would not even be an issue if the nationality of a car would not matter).

      Exactly because cars are for many people not merely appliances and ‘what we buy, makes us’, the nationality of the cars we buy DOES play an important part in what cars we buy, IMO.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Auto nationalism is but one of many emotional themes to be used in marketing, much like gender differences, economic aspirations, etc. Any theme only becomes a problem when it’s used innappropriately or stretched beyond its breaking point. And in the very market described, where cars evolve into ever more similar product offerings across manufacturer, tugging any and every emotional string possible becomes increasingly necessary.

  • avatar
    obbop

    “…you just baselessly and ignorantly insulted an entire region”
     
    So much more fun to insult others based upon religion but that is my personal preference.
    :)

  • avatar

    the best measurement of the ad’s effectiveness will be by how well the phone rings and the door swings. the rest is simply conjecture.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      There’s also buzz. And this ad has everyone talking. It was voted 2nd best car ad of the Superbowl on an Autoblog poll (after the saccharine sweet “Dart Vader” VW ad whose car by the way didn’t look as good as the 200 in the Chrysler ad).

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Nice piece, Ed.  I’m not sure how “dangerous” the ad is.  In my view, what’s dangerous about this ad is that it sets the bar pretty high for the car, and if it succeeds in its goal (to get people into the showrooms to look at the car), then it better not have over-promised.  If there’s one characteristic I would attribute to the Detroit 3s advertising over the years: it’s that it over promised.  This, unfortunately, is a consistent theme.  Remember the Ford Granada ads, comparing it ti a Mercedes?  Or, much more recently, Bob Lutz comparing some FWD Pontiac to a BMW?
    Obviously, this is a means of product differentiation, which is crucial to fight the “car-as-an-appliance” phenomenon which, I think, is growing in all but the top of the market.
    Finally, as The BNB have commented in various contexts, national markets are different in their demands.  Some cars successful in Europe don’t sell well here and, obviously, many “domestic” US products (i.e. designed to meet domestic demand) do not sell well in Europe.  There seems to be a natural tendency, on the part of some self-flagellating Americans, to say that Americans are clods for their taste in cars — the desire for cupholders, the bias for comfort over precise handling, the desire for size.
    However, I would submit that each of those characteristics reflects the unique characteristics of the American market.  For one thing, Americans spend a lot of time in their cars per-trip; and Americans cover distances in their cars on a different scale the Europeans.  And, of course, the European governments’ mercantilist policy from just after World War 2 of taxing petroleum heavily, taxing car size and taxing engine displacement, reflecting the absence of domestic petroleum reserves in Europe (at the time, pre-North Sea).  Not to mention the fact the European cities, being much older than North American cities, are not particularly friendly to large cars.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      “I’m not sure how “dangerous” the ad is.” I think it’s “Tea Party” dangerous. It’s dangerous because it takes a different take on things than some have. And it might you know, influence peoples’ thinking. In other words, not really dangerous, just different.

  • avatar
    derm81

    Toyota has been running their flag-waving patriotic-American-jobs-themed ad in Politico for a great while touting the number of jobs they have in the US. Why do some people think that is alight for Toyota to do this and not Chrysler or Ford? I guess it is a fair question to ask eh…
    Speaking of the “regionalism” scope…unless you lived or live in SE MI, you really cannot begin to fathom how the automotive industry encompasses the region. I know that this thought will insult some of the posters here but it is true. Someone from Providence or Miami or even San Diego simply will not have the same appreciation for the auto industry as someone from let’s say Novi or Sterling Heights.
     

  • avatar
    Philosophil

    While it may be true that globalization and information technology may have diminished the importance of geography in defining the identity of a people, and trying to associate modern products with a particular region or cultural group reminds us just how complex and multifaceted objects of production (of all sorts) really are, we need to be careful not to overstate the extent to which people and things have become homogenized.
     
    Identity depends not only upon the existence of commonalities between individuals, but on differences as well, whether they be real or constructed. A thing is what it is, not merely by reference to others like it, but also by reference to those things (or aspects of things) that it is not. So important is this negative feature of identity that people will sometimes go to ridiculous lengths to construct and maintain the differences by which they define themselves, often by caricaturing and devaluing the ‘other’ person upon which their ‘constructed’ sense of identity rests. Hence the widespread prevalence of prejudice and other identity-preserving strategies.
     
    Not all means of constructing identity through difference need be bad, however, especially when the other against which one is working is one’s own past ‘self’ which one is trying to better or improve (through wisdom won and lessons learned). Also, while identity through production may not be able to stand on the same kinds of footing as it once did (such as geographically grounded national identity), nevertheless it seems perfectly plausible to ground identity in production when the emphasis is placed, not on the materials involved in the production process, but in the virtues associated with the process of production as such. This does not have to be geographically or regionally situated, but can be measured against ideals or standards of excellence to which one can aspire as identity-forming grounds.
     
    A passionate, well-written article, by the way.

  • avatar
    newfdawg

    The Chrysler ad last night appealed to what I would term “aberrant patriotism”; using blatant nationalism to sell automobiles.  Just curious how much of the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee (or any other American automobile for that matter) is built in the United States?  How much of the components were built in Mexico, Canada, or other countries?  How much of the engineering was carried out in other countries?  Maybe we need the equivalent of truth in advertising detailing how much of an “American” vehicle was manufactured domestically and likewise how much engineering was carried out overseas…of course if that was done the term “Buy American” looses a lot of its simplistic logic.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      Just take a trip down to your local dealer. The domestic content of any vehicle is written on the sticker.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      If you really care about this sort of thing, what matters, more than anything else, is parts content and assembly.  The costs of manufacture are generally materials and labour: where did the parts come from, who built them, where did the parts go, and who assembled them.  Thanks to JIT, you can generally be assured that parts are sourced fairly near where assembly is performed.
       
      Where it was engineered is irrelevant except in a national pride sort of way.  The economic impact for a few tens of engineers and designers is nothing compared to the impact hundreds or thousands of assembly jobs.
       
      What also matters, though, is locality, not nationality.  A plant in your own city is more important (economically) than one in your own state, which is more important than one at the other end of the country.  Heck, if you live in Detroit, you’d be better off cheering for Windsor, Ontario than for plants in Ohio, Illinois or such.
       
      What’s almost completely irrelevant is where the profit goes.  Unless you own stock and/or are a bank and/or are an executive of the company in question, you never see profit.  “The Profits Go To Japan” was a wonderful red herring that completely ignored that a) domestic profits went to rich people in Detroit and New York, rather than rich people in Tokyo, and more importantly, b)the domestics weren’t making a profit more often than not, anyway.

  • avatar
    jimboy

    Sorry, Edward, but I disagree with your premise completely. Purchasing a car based on its ownership (nationality) is probably a factor in EVERY automotive purchase. Some people won’t buy “detroit iron” or a “rice burner”, or a “kraut wagon”. In virtually every manufacturing nation in the world, the natives usually buy local. Why? Patriotism, value, brand loyalty, supporting the home team. Who else would buy a Dacia, or Skoda, etc. The average joe/jane doesn’t know or care where the parts come from, only that it’s a Toyota, or Mercedes, AND that one is Japanese, the other, German, with all that connotes to them. That is not ‘tenous’ at all. While the Sebring/200 may be a german, japanese, italian, american mash-up, it is still seen as an ‘american’ car. No matter where FIAT moves it’s head office, Ferrari will ALWAYS be Italian. I know it’s not very popular these days to be patriotic, or proud of who and what we are, but many of us still are, and don’t buy into the “citizen of the world” crapola. We know the companies source from all over, but nationalism is alive and well, thank you very much.

    • 0 avatar
      Signal11

      jimboy,
       
      In my experience, the primary reason the locals usually buy loca is because the local product is cheaper.  The luxury of buying foreign is reserved for the well to do.
       
      As for what you seem to be referring to when you say “nationalism,” it too will fade and is just a matter of time.  As with most forms of cultural conservatism, it is and will be on the wrong side of history.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    As Chrysler’s identity and pedigree becomes more muddled….formerly owned by a German, company, sold to a private equity firm, bailed out by the govrrnment, then partially taken over by the Italians…..they are looking for a way to clearly identify themselves. Let’s face it, it’s simply marketing, and it’s in to be patriotic. The same goes for their other commercial which extolls their latr 50′s, early 60′s vehicles and “style”….retro is in too. VW does the same thing, advertising Mexican built VW’s as “das Auto”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Lighten up Francis. 

    I pride myself in believing in Adam Smith’s basic tenents.  Smith would have argued that whatever country can produce the best quality product for the lowest price should specialize in that industry.  He’d have all the cars built in Korea right now until the Chinese up their game a little and then he’d have all the cars built in China. 

    But cars are an emotional thing for me and so I can’t follow him on that.  It’s like rooting for the Cleveland Browns, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Cleveland Indians.  I’m 33 years old and except for a few bright shining years in my life, they’ve always sucked.  But I still root for them because as my father raised me; “Root where your from, son.”  (Born and raised in NW Ohio now living in New Mexico.)

    It’s the same way with cars.  I want to see the “Americans” succeed and I want to see them succeed with “American” products.  I don’t care where the Chrysler 300 is built, I don’t care where the platform components are from, it’s a very AMERICAN product.  Its got swagger, its in your face, it has a huge trunk and absorbs potholes with ease.  The Chevy Impala is the same way, so was the Lincoln Town Car.  So is an F150, or a Silverado, or a RAM.  Even if its just suspension tuning or shift points in the transmission, make American products.  Live or die, fly or fail, make AMERICAN products.  None of this “me too” bull crap. 

    Sorry I’ll get off my soap box now. 

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      I know how you feel Dan. Except for the last few years no matter where I lived I suffered along with the misfortunes of my beloved Phillies.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I pride myself in believing in Adam Smith’s basic tenents.  Smith would have argued that whatever country can produce the best quality product for the lowest price should specialize in that industry.

      Smith’s ideas are little bit anachronistic, having been developed before the full flower of the industrial and information revolutions and well before it became trivial for the wealthy to shift economic activity at a whim.

      He certainly wasn’t advocating a race to the bottom that sees employment moved willy-nilly to the lowest-cost producer, or to producers who can wantonly exploit their environment and/or human capital; you could extrapolate his comments on cartels to mean that.

      But otherwise, yes, I see your point, though I take a little pleasure and pride that, in your list of definitively American vehicles that there’s more than a few whose VINs start with a “2″.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Very inspiring Dan!  Yes, I’ve been stereotyped as a redneck ‘Murican, being from the Southeast, living in the four corners of NM, and a military veteran.  But with that said, there’s nothing wrong with wanting our (automotive) industries to succeed.  It helps all of us.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      I had an earlier reply to your comment, Dan, but it got lost in cyberspace and didn’t show up. so I’ll try again. I’m not an economist nor a businessman – I design paperboard packaging – “tomorrow’s trash”, if you want to really be cynical about it, but how a car, TV or any other consumer goods can be manufactured overall cheaper overseas is beyond me. First, you need the raw materials, which are shipped or mined in or to the country of origin, the goods manufactured, packaged, sent to port, loaded aboard ship, sail, dock, unload, reload on a train or truck or a combination of both to go to market, sold. In between you have lots of people handling all the stuff, all the fuel and energy and marketing. Ships, shipping containers, trains, trucks, fuel, wages & benefits, etc. cost money. Is the actual labor to make things that much of a factor? Or is something else involved I don’t quite understand? I remember a now-forgotten disclaimer on ads that disappeared in the mid-1970′s “Prices slightly higher in the west and south” due to shipping costs. I guess all that has been homogenized now. I miss the days when you had a choice of brands and all were significantly unique, Admiral, Zenith, GE, Philco, Magnavox, etc. But that was then. Welcome, brave new world of globalization!

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      Had a real American Zenith at one point.  Dang good.  And I was willing to pay a little extra for the quality.  Sigh.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Great article Ed… three quick thoughts.
    1) All men are created equal… (at least until governments get involved)
    2) National identity and ‘character’ are still among the most important factors most consumers will consider when buying a vehicle.
    3) Only America can make a Corvette, Chrysler 300, or F150 that has that genuine feel of an American vehicle. Only Germany can make a Mercedes S-Class, BMW 3-Series, or VW GTI that feels like a German machine. And of course, only the Japanese and Koreans can make vehicles that are considered to be ‘inspired’ by others.
    Then again, only the Japanese could create a Prius, a Fit, or an MX-5. Just because you can assemble the parts does not mean that you can create the whole.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      If by “equal” you mean that all people are morally equal, then no problem. But if you mean that all people have equal opportunity or something like that, then this is surely not true. No one has control over the conditions into which they are born, and those conditions play a major role in shaping, enabling, and constraining a person’s possibilities for action. In countries such as ours, a person born into wealth, power, or influence has a far greater advantage in being able to realize his or her possibilities than a person born into poverty, or in a situation of little power and influence (women make up more than 50% of the population, but when was the last time you saw a woman as President?). Not everyone starts at the same starting pole, some begin well ahead of the starting line, some well back. Of course no one is to be blamed for where they are born, whether in wealth or in poverty, but the same opportunities are simply not available to all people to the same degree or extent.
       
      But I will certainly agree that all are born equal from a moral point of view.

  • avatar
    picard234

    Please read the quote from the Detroit News carefully:

    “Three workers from Chrysler Group LLC’s Jefferson North plant were arrested recently for alleged drug use during their lunch break after police were tipped off by the automaker.’

    Tipped off by the automaker?  After a recent trip to my dealer for routine maintenance (I would do it myself if it weren’t so F@*kin cold outside), the service manager told me that Chrysler actually hired “detectives” to check on these guys during their lunch times.  True or not?  I don’t know, but the wording of the Det News article seems to have escaped scrutiny while lending credence to this idea.

    I am a Detroit suburbanite.  The Chrysler 200 represents a source of pride to me, in the sense that Chrysler took this piece of crap (that was approved for production by Dr. Z) and turned it into something competitive.  That’s the spirit of Detroit. 

    Even if the 2013 or 2014 replacement is a Fiat platform, let’s just see what the Chrysler boys and girls can do with it.  It just might be the 1990′s all over again.  Let’s hope so.  We’ve seen enough blight, bankruptcy and discouragement around these parts.
     
     

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    A couple of points;
     
    1. Car companies are businesses, providing for the most part discretionary luxury items, when compared to how the rest of the world survives day-to-day. Structuring your economy around luxury goods is a bad idea.
     
    2. Brand enthusiasts are the individual car company equivalent of Apple Mac zealots, where nothing is inappropriate, ill conceived or can be constructively criticised. Attach nationalistic pride (whatever that means) to it and you get irrational decisions.
     
    3. Nothing is more sure, they will have to adapt or die having paraded themselves as massive national boons but in reality capital destroyers (both stockholders and privately via depreciation).
     
    Appliance drivers are happy. Appliance drivers are good business. There are way too many car companies eating other people’s money.

  • avatar
    JJ

    At the risk of repeating myself;

    The editorial proves that it does matter a lot where cars are built and what country brands come from. If it didn’t, this article wouldn’t be necessary and the fact that the 300 is made in Canada and a lot of Fords are built in Mexico would be a mute point.

    Stickers identifying the percentage of ‘domestic content’ in dealerships would also become obsolete if it wouldn’t matter to anyone anymore.


Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe without commenting

Recent Comments

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Staff

  • Contributing Writers

  • Jack Baruth, United States
  • Brendan McAleer, Canada
  • Marcelo De Vasconcellos, Brazil
  • Vojta Dobes, Czech Republic
  • Matthias Gasnier, Australia
  • W. Christian 'Mental' Ward, Abu Dhabi
  • Mark Stevenson, Canada
  • Cameron Aubernon, United States
  • J Emerson, United States