It's a Small (Minded) World After All

Frank Williams
by Frank Williams

If patriotism is a scoundrel’s last refuge, American automakers and their domestic defenders have been fixated on the end game for decades. The Car Connection’s Gary Witzenburg is only the latest industry wag to try to wrap The Big 2.5 in the American flag. In a rehash of a November 2003 editorial for Automotive Industries magazine, Witzenburg offers gullible readers a lesson from his school for scoundrels.

Witzenburg’s polemic– "What's an American Car?"– starts with a proposition. “Say General Motors decides to build Chevrolets in Japan…” The former GM PR flack argues that you couldn't consider this theoretical, made-in-Japan GM product a Japanese car because it was built by an American-owned company.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Chevrolet builds and sells the Epica and Spark in China. Buick builds and sells the GL-8 minivan in The People's Republic. GM builds Aveos in Korea and sells them at Chevrolet dealers across America. By Mr. Witzenburg’s standards these are all American cars. By anyone else’s, they’re Chinese and Korean.

In Witzenburg's world, a Honda Accord designed by American engineers, fabricated by American workers (paid in American dollars), built in America (Marysville, Ohio) with mostly (though not exclusively) American-made parts is… Japanese. Anyone familiar with multinational automobile manufacturing knows that today's world market simply isn’t simple enough to support Witzenburg’s simplistic logic fed by yo yo bento.

For example, how would the polemicist classify the country of origin for cars built at NUMMI, the joint venture between GM and Toyota? The California plant produces both the Toyota Corolla and Pontiac Vibe. Do their respective badges make the Corolla Japanese and the Vibe American, even though they share parts and roll out of the same assembly plant? Not even dancing Tony Tuttle would agree with that.

As Witzenburg’s rhetoric shifts into high gear, the contradictions raised by his position become increasingly obvious. The writer’s definition of American cars expands to include Chrysler products— even though the company is owned (at least for now) by Germany’s DaimlerChrysler. At the same time, Witzenburg labels Opel a German car brand– even though it’s owned by General Motors.

So the location of a car company’s headquarters determines its products’ nationality; or the citizenship of the people who screw it together; depending on Witzenburg’s personal preference.

Poor Witzenburg. He lives at a time when Australian Holdens become “American” Pontiacs and German Opels become “domestic” Saturns– which are sold in showrooms next to "true American” cars (many of which are built in Mexico and Canada). The Big 2.5’s global production model has removed any remaining justification for the writer's “America first” defense, who must serve at the pleasure of the president.

No surprise, then, that Witzenburg changes tack and adopts the hackneyed “what’s best for America” argument. He states “while some (mostly southern) states continue to battle each other with big incentives to attract new foreign-maker plants to gain two or three thousand jobs, other (mostly northern) states lose tens of thousands.”

Witzenburg seems unaware that these “mostly southern” states have been trying to attract the automotive industry for years. They were snubbed by the American automakers based in the “mostly northern” states. Now the same automakers are crying foul when southern states do whatever’s necessary to lure industrial facilities, using incentives to create jobs for their citizens. Just like Michigan.

“What they did not see, or chose to ignore, is that ‘creation’ of a few thousand plant jobs here and there would eventually destroy many more and better jobs elsewhere.”

What Witzenburg doesn’t see, or conveniently ignores, is that the jobs in question were destroyed by The Big 2.5's refusal to recognize and adapt to a changing market, and the way they rolled over and played dead for the UAW. The Big 2.5’s tunnel vision led to this situation, not the efforts of a few state governors to provide a better standard of living for their constituents.

Witzenburg then quotes Jim Allard, professional organist and president of the Ford-funded Level Field Institute. “Is it more important to the U.S. economy for someone to buy a Ford Fusion, although it's built in Mexico, from a company that employs 105,000 SUV-driving Americans than a Honda built in Ohio from a company that employs 27,000 sushi eaters?”

In a word, no. If Americans bought automobiles based entirely on the number of ignorant Americans an automaker employs– not upon the vehicle's quality or value– there'd be only one domestic manufacturer. We'd all be driving something truly nasty (e.g. Lada). What's more, if foreign consumers followed the same rule, they'd never buy an automobile from an American subsidiary.

The Big 2.5 have staked their future on their ability to leverage the world automotive market for domestic success. Their plan contradicts the knee-jerk patriotism they've promolgated– or at least tolerated– ever since the foreign "invasion" began. Ironically enough, Gary Witzenberg is paving the domestics' road to Hell.

[To read Gary Witzenburg's editorial, click here.]

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  • Luigi Bosco Luigi Bosco on Sep 09, 2007

    If it is not from the big three is is not a product from the land of the free. Are you guys in denial? I had a 1990 Chevy which I recently gave to a friend. Unlike it’s Japanese competitors it did not have a timing belt. It‘s V6 engine did not gel and the heads gaskets did not blow. The speedometers recorded the mileage correctly and as it was a wagon it was worked hard most of its life and buried a lot of foreign competition during the 17 years the car was in the family. . What you drive says allot about who you are. Do you really think you do not stand out in a foreign brand on a us road? If you want to buy from a scab do not cry when you are out of work. Foreign jobs are in the south for a reason only ; to employ scab workers. You can put dress on pig but it is still a pig Nissan sent the Armada, Honda sent the Pilot and Mitsubishi sent the Zero; what does that make you, a target? Be different and support America.

  • Robert Farago Robert Farago on Sep 09, 2007
    Luigi Bosco : If it is not from the big three is is not a product from the land of the free. That's a nice, simple rule, but how do you account for Korean Chevrolets, Mexican Fusions and Canadian Silverados? And what about Chinese parts in Chryslers, or Chrysler's recent production deal with the Chinese to build a small car for the American market? By the same token, calling all Southern auto workers "scabs" makes things nice and clear for the intellectually challenged, but are southern auto workers really taking jobs from union workers? I mean, jobs that the union had? 'Cause as far as I know, there were no union workers building cars down South before the transplants set up shop. Also, the southern workers seem unwilling to organize. So... they may be scabs, but they seem happy enough to work without union representation. Do you think they might know something you don't?
  • Kat Laneaux @jalop1991I get that. It should be that way. Bills should be one and only one. None of this...if you scratch my back, i'll scratch yours as long as you agree with this too. That's petty and bs. I guess no one has enough balls to stand up for what is right, regardless of which side you stand on. Do one bill and pass it but pass it on merits and not on tit for tat.
  • Kat Laneaux They do but the electric companies are striving to go higher on prices. They supposedly were petitioning to allow higher charges for Solar users, here in NC.As long as they have the money to buy regulations, anything can happen and I really don't feel like spending my dollars on satisfying those evil, money hungry people.
  • J I haven't owned a sedan since like 2011 had a ford fusion and impala then I discovered hatchbacks beats an SUV but the amount of stuff I can do with my little hatchbacks leaves sedan owners and even some SUV and truck owners surprised
  • Dougjp It seems like I'm in a minority by rejecting CUV/SUVs and wanting "cars" instead. Its because, comparing apples to apples (same specs), I don't want (a) worse performance, (b) worse handling, (c) worse fuel economy, (d) worse road & wind noise and (e) higher cost. I'm quite willing to PAY for shipping that costs way less than 1% of the difference between the cost of a car and a comparable CUV/SUV, to buy a bulky piece of furniture from a store that doesn't provide free shipping. Which I would seldom buy anyway. The problem is, people don't think logically, and would rather default to herd mentality. Its the same as why people buy "off road vehicles", complete with ugly add on patch body work to "look the part", then they never go off road.
  • FreedMike How about one for a brown diesel wagon?