By on December 26, 2010

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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38 Comments on “The Missed Export Market For American Cars...”

  • avatar

    >>new Chevrolets and new friends aren’t as reliable as the old ones!
    Really, unreliable, or is it just part of the fad to talk trash about Chevy?  As unreliable as Peugeout or Geely?  I highly doubt it.

  • avatar

    Can you imagine the shock to your system if you’re a fan of 50’s GM vehicles, even though held together by bubble gum & baling wire, when you finally have the right to buy a new one and the Aveo shows up at your doorstep?  Styling and brand perception whiplash to the extreme.

  • avatar

    The dichotomy of being in debt up to our eyeballs to the largest Communist country, yet being unwilling to trade with one of the smallest is somewhat mind-boggling.
    If the Japanese have given in to economic reality (over a bloody and hateful past) with China, we’re fools not to open trade with Cuba. I must say that the politics of South Florida must be very powerful to stave off the inevitable, yes even the desirable.
    I bought a pair of Timberland shoes a while back that were made in Vietnam, a Communist country, and one-time enemy – I don’t think that Cuba was responsible for quite as many of our lost soldiers in the last 50 years.

    • 0 avatar

      “…in debt up to our eyeballs to the largest Communist country…”
      China is a fascist country with a capitalist economy, like the US.
      It’s communist in name only, just like we’re democratic in name only.
      Both countries are run by corporate oligarchy, and “hide” it (poorly) behind an artificial ideology.

    • 0 avatar

      I like my simplistic view better  ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “It’s communist in name only”

      It is the only possible way to be Communist/Socialist: In Name.
      A coherent, honest Communist/Socialist country would kill its entire population in a decade. By hunger.

  • avatar

    Even the worst car today is far more reliable than anything from the era of Cuba’s US cars.  What they won’t be doing is fixing them with redneck engineering like the old ones.  And that will be the case no matter what modern car they buy.  I think this issue with Cubs is nonsense.  End the embargo already.

  • avatar

    I supose there was a time when the embargo was warranted, after all, all the mob run casinos were closed, no more opportunity to launder money, etc. 

    The embargo should end.  Should have ended in a year after it started.  Its an embarassment.  On the bright side tho, where would all the illegally stored extremests be kept, if not for our dirty little sectret, Gitmo?

  • avatar

    Gitmo is not our only dirty secret.  This is another topic for wikileaks.  If we had real journalists, not corporate cheerleaders, exposing the folks behind stupid decisions like the Cuba embargo, things like this would not exist.

  • avatar

    I think there’s a wider picture.

    American cars have one ‘unique selling point’. They are cool (or at least perceived to be cool.) Americans are cool. American culture (for what it’s worth) is also cool.
    I have no doubt that if every Muslim had the opportunity for 4 bedroom house and 2 cars and every bit of American culture they wouldn’t care for this war against America.
    The world wants Mustangs Camaros Challengers Chargers. Instead the impression we get of American cars are Aveos, Sebrings and Cadillac BLS and Nitros and stuff no-one really wants.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with you even though it may not be a popular position. That reminds me of an old Mad TV skit in which a would be jihadist is sent to America to suicide bomb. Worried about his lack of progress, jihad HQ sends a man to find out the problem. Turns out that the first man sent has found a job and is living the middle class life complete with suburban Mcmansion, big screen telly and all and is married to an attractive Jewish woman to boot

    • 0 avatar

      First of all, you use the word “Muslims” as if you describe a nation or “race”. There are a large number of American, Canadian, and European Muslims. I for one can tell you that I do not relish the wasteful American lifestyle, along with it’s culture of debt and ego centrism. Neither do countless Canadians, Europeans, or Australians. We each like our individuality and the lifestyle we have allowed ourselves. No one, except Americans, think of American “culture” as cool.
      I would advise using the word “Muslims” carefully – such language is reminiscent of using the word “Jews” to describe stereotypes back in the early 20th century and Nazi-era.
      Americans are cool?  Americans are frequently the butt of jokes in European countries, looked upon as uncouth. Americans are no more “cooler” than Canadians or Australians. I don’t say this out of unkindness – spend some time in France, Germany or the U.K, or even Canada. While there is some admiration of the free-spirit and grandeur of certain American institutions and places (Hollywood for example, or New York City for it’s wealth and uniqueness), for the most part no body regards Americans as cool.
      I am doubtfull that the world wants Mustangs, etc. What’s stopping us from buying one? There is a strong culture of enviornmental responsiblity in Europe, and cars like the (low-quality) Challenger perpetuate the image of a wasteful nation.
      I think Cubans still regard Chevrolets as the cars they were when GM ruled the world. They would be in for a shock if imports from GM started again. Flimsy plastics, very thin sheet metal, generic styling is what they would have to face, not big and solid (albeit less reliable) cars.

    • 0 avatar

      The funny thing is that “assimilation” into American culture is exactly what the jihadists are preaching against.

  • avatar

    Business is the best ambassador.       Opening up trade with Cuba in 2011 should be a goal of the present administration.   

    Cuba can get an immediate cash infusion with tourism and hopefully US autos sales can follow.  

    Now the big question; What US car would make a suitable taxi in Cuba without the Panther?    

  • avatar

    The biggest matter is not taking down the embargo or keeping it. Even doing that, the Cuban government wouldn’t let its prisioners citizens to buy US cars.
    And then, they wouldn’t have the money. They don’t have it right now. Cuba is in a continuous bail-out from Venezuela since Chavez became president.
    By taking down the embargo, the Cuban government wouldn’t have any real excuse or someone to blame for the catastrophic state of the country, and would hold no real reason to fight the “empire”.

  • avatar

    Discussions of the embargo always bring out the Hate America Firsters and those who can’t distinguish between a democracy and a cruel totalitarian dictatorship. It isn’t the embargo that keeps Cubans from buying cars from the US–or other countries, for that matter–it is the poverty that results from Castro’s Communist fanaticism. Cuba can’t even adequately feed its people, let alone import high-priced consumer goods. There’s no barrier to Cubans buying BMWs from Germany or Hondas from Japan, is there?

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      Nice way to sidestep the issue. What, exactly, has been accomplished with the Cuba embargo?
      Why should the US continue to embrace Saudi Arabia and China whilst giving Cuba the cold war treatment? For goodness sake, we trade vigorously with Vietnam these days!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    GIMME MY F*$&ING CIGARS ALREADY! (Sorry I had to get that off my chest.)
    Honestly embargoes are so worthless.  If you want Cuba or Iran to change, embrace them.  Let at least the younger generations see that America is not evil.  (Not Cubans necessarily but the Iranians certainly.)  Holding countries we don’t like at arms length sure hasn’t worked for us.  Time for a new tactic.  How bout open arms instead of a closed fist?

  • avatar
    Tommy Boy

    Like the pigs in Orwell’s Animal Farm, the only folks in Cuba that might even consider purchasing a new (or even new-ish) car from any country are Communist Party officials.  Collectivist countries have “rich” just like capitalist countries, only they’re Party officials that enrich themselves through coercion, rather than businesspersons who enrich themselves through commerce.  And in collectivist countries the middle class is eventually wiped out — so you have well-off Party officials and poor people.

    The embargo is more symbolic than anything else, since Cuba is free to trade with the rest of the world, including importing “American” cars from other South and Central American countries, should it so choose.

    Alas, Comrade Obama is a dedicated collectivist, and intends to make the United States resemble Cuba, more than vice-versa.

    • 0 avatar

      Two points:
      Companies in the rest of the world cannot do significant business in Cuba without incurring the wrath of Helms-Burton, and two, Cuba’s elite aren’t nearly so well off as China’s or, indeed, the old USSR.
      How do I know? Unlike a lot of people who pass judgement, I’ve actually been there and, you know, talked and walked. It’s by no means a great place and opportunity is non-existent, but while I’ve never seen the kind of wealth you see in even the lower-middle class in North America, neither do you see the kind of poverty and related crime we have here, either, never mind the kinds of hellholes you regularly see in capitalist Latin America.
      Your point in general is correct, but gets lost in some rather lame posturing that compares Obama to Castro, which is about as valid as comparing Bush to Hitler, and completely discredits what valid points you did make.

    • 0 avatar
      Tommy Boy


      >> neither do you see the kind of poverty and related crime we have here, either, never mind the kinds of hellholes you regularly see in capitalist Latin America

      Were it not for the subsidies from the USSR in prior decades, and Venezuela today, you would see such hellholes in Cuba.
      >>Your point in general is correct, but gets lost in some rather lame posturing that compares Obama to Castro, which is about as valid as comparing Bush to Hitler, and completely discredits what valid points you did make.

      My point was that Obama seeks to “fundamentally transform” our economic system into a collectivist one; I did not state that he seeks to become a dictator of the Castro / Hitler ilk.

      Obama in fact seems to be oriented toward a fascist resembling model (fascism being one form of collectivism), with nominal private “ownership” of the “means of production” but de facto government control through a combination of statute, regulation and government intimidation, err, I mean persuasion.

    • 0 avatar

      Idiot.  Obama is a corporatist, just like every other president of the last 50 years. He’s FAR closer to Ronald Reagan than he is to Castro.

    • 0 avatar

      No name calling. Next time, it will result in a ban.

  • avatar

    You know why the embargo hasn’t ended?  It is called lawsuits.  Specifically the lawsuits Cuban ex-patriots filed and won after their property was expropriated by Castro. Who is volunteering to pay the literally billions that are owed from those suits?  American taxpayers or Cuban taxpayers (er, there ain’t too many of the latter)? All of the Cuban cigar brands have been copyrighted by the Dominican/Honduran cigar makers here in the US (Cohiba was the last one standing and it flipped in the last couple of years).   So, even the “easy” stuff ain’t easy.  Even though I am an adamant anti-Communist and despise Castro for being a thug, I have been in favor of ending the embargo for years.  But, those damn pesky ex-Cubans in Miami won’t let it go.  But why should they?  If I were them, I wouldn’t let it go either.

  • avatar

    Given the general lack of prosperity in Cuba, what, in the short term, would the new market be?  100k units per year?

    • 0 avatar

      Cuba has an awesome amount of potential: no endemic disease or poverty, full literacy and high levels of education, health care, little or no ethnic strife.
      It’s not huge, but it’s not a bad market to get on the ground floor of. The problem is that other people already are poised to, thanks to American pigheadedness.

    • 0 avatar
      Roberto Esponja

      “no endemic disease or poverty, full literacy and high levels of education, health care, little or no ethnic strife…”

      Funny, that’s exactly what a lot of people used to say about the Soviet Union before its breakup, and look at how “true” that turned out to be…

    • 0 avatar

      From what I understand (see the Wikileaks cable on the international round-table discussion regarding the moribund state of the Cuban economy, and Stingray’s comments above), the Cuban economy is on life-support, courtesy of Mr. Chavez, but without a broad-based infusion of economic vitality or radical reform, is poised for dramatic upheaveal within the next 12-24 mos.  (yes, I know folks have been saying this for years…)

      And regarding back in on the ground floor … perhaps the time-bubble effect of not being in the Cuban market since 1959/60 is a net win fir the big-3, as they didn’t have the opportunity to wreck their image by selling their maliase-era crap there…

  • avatar

    Cuba is an impoverished third world country at this point (check the UN stats, they are horrible).  They weren’t in 1959, but then Argentina wasn’t in 1939 either.  Their governments have made them poor.  The only country in the world that still embargoes Cuba is us.  Where are all the Mercs and BMWs?  One of the funniest things ever said was by Herbert Kohl, then Chancellor of W. Germany, who upon the merger of West and East Germany said it shouldn’t take more than 10 years and $250 billion to bring East Germany up to W. German standards.  After 20 years and closer to a trillion they are still just a bit short (actually a LOT short).  If you think there is some vast amount of money in Cuba just waiting to buy Murican cars, amongst others, you are in dreamland.  It is a broke, dysfunctional island ruled by a bunch of racist gangsters for the last 50 years.  End the embargo, the Castros are virtually dead anyway, but still, there just isn’t anything there. We can just cut off the Egyptians and Palestinians* for a year of foreign aid money so we can pay off the ex-patriots.
    *Israel too for you equal opportunity types.

  • avatar

    If you are trying to say we should end the embargo so GM can sell lots of cars to the Cubans, you are barking up the wrong tree. They don’t have any money. Period. The only reason Cuba does not look like North Korea today is that it got so much money from the Soviet Union. Today it still does a tourism business. If it was not a Caribbean island, it would be more like North Korea – who would want to take a holiday there?
    If you want to argue that the embargo should end on it’s own merits, that’s a different topic. I for one, am worried that if we take off the embargo we will start to send ever increasing aid to them due either to a guilt complex or pandering by the media to do something about “the children”. I don’t want us taking out more government loans to prop up a failed government and economic system so it can exist a few more years. It will eventually fail, like communism did in eastern Europe. We should let it die, hasten it if we can. It’s the only hope for those poor souls to get a better life.

  • avatar

    MOst Cubans would not be able to afford classic American cars, unless they were absolute beaters, lemons-worthy. More likely is that the end of the embargo would mean that most of the classic American cars in Cuba would be bought up by non-Cubans.
    For the Cubans, the embargo’s end would end their condition of dirt poverty. (A photographer I know who spent time in Cuba in the last couple of years remarked on how rare it was to see them smile.) I had hoped that O’b would end this ridiculous embargo.
    @mhadi   The French, although they would deny it, have always thought American culture to be cool. Friends of my parents–intelligencia on the political left!–who visited my parents on Cape Cod, went next to Niagara Falls, and from Niagara Falls to Texas. When traveling in France, the signs of a culture that likes American culture are unmistakable. Le Drugstore, a fancy eatery in Paris, for one.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar
    George B

    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.

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