The Missed Export Market For American Cars
Speaking of exports, a Canadian columnist of the Saint City News made out an eager market, lusting for American cars, right in front of our noses. The writer found “a market of 11 million people who love GM products and paste Chevrolet bowtie logos on decrepit Ladas and Skodas.” However, the American government has denied that market the American dream, “year after year for more than half a century.” You know which market we are talking about. No? It’s some 100 miles from Key West. Right: Cuba.
The embargo created a vacuum other nations are eager to fill:
“Here in Cuba, a country of 11 million souls, every one of whom appears to love Chevrolets, any new car you see nowadays is likely a Peugeot or a Geely. Meanwhile, the streets of this proud little island are a-hustle with vintage Chevys — not to mention Mercuries, Plymouths, Packards and Ramblers lovingly maintained with Bondo, duct tape and Russian knock-off parts.”
The author of the piece is David Climenhaga, a former journalist for the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He is now Communications Director of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Alberta’s largest union. He says that doing away with the “cruel and stupid embargo” would be appreciated by the unions:
“Fully opening this market to American business would also help the Canadian industrial heartland. After all, GM’s most productive and reliable assembly plants are in Ontario. Some are mothballed, and thousands of workers have lost jobs, because of GM’s troubles.”
The thinking was, if we deny the Cubans cars and other products, they will take to the streets, chant “we want Escalades,” and topple their government. Instead, the embargo created a ready market for the French and the Chinese.
“But the embargo has also hurt Americans. Not so far away in Detroit, another crumbling city, the former Big Three automakers are still in business thanks only to bailouts by hard-pressed taxpayers.”
Says Dan Heller, who maintains one of the best on-line collections of American classic cars on Cuba: “Up until the revolution in 1960, Cuba was the largest importer of American cars, mostly the huge, gas-guzzling, multi-ton pile of metal that so many of us look back on today as a romantic relic of the past.” They would take new American cars in a heartbeat.
But, warns Climenhaga, “perhaps, though, they should be careful what they wish for. Someday they may find new Chevrolets and new friends aren’t as reliable as the old ones!
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My guess is the only thing that keeps the embargo alive is Fidel's ability to fog a mirror, whereupon the US can declare "a new era has dawned". After all, even with the embargo the US is one of Cuba's most important source of imports. Any American who really wants to go to Cuba can do so in a cumbersome or roundabout way. Formally ending the embargo would probably be a non-event for almost all Americans if there was concurrent action to stop the free pass all escaping Cubans now get to remain in this country. Otherwise, there would be a huge flood of migrants, the vast majority going north to stay.
Getting back to cars, would an American style auto parts chain like AutoZone be able to find a market in a poor country like Cuba? Can't see Cubans buying lots of new cars, but maybe they would buy our used cars that can't pass emissions tests and fix them up using inexpensive local labor. Japan exports lots of used cars. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_used_vehicle_exporting