By on June 1, 2014

After getting lost in the maze of hallways numerous times, I finally found the door I was looking for. I knocked and it swung open sharply. Larry stood there with a devilish grin on his face, the kind he got when he was really proud of something. I could see a still from his work on the enormous screen behind him. A famous actor stood next to a luxury sedan, pointing at it with a smirk. Before I could say anything, Larry grabbed me by my collar and pulled me into his lair.

We sat down amongst the plethora of expensive video editing equipment in the small, dark room. He grabbed the burrito out of my hand and tore into it with ravenous force.

“So what did you bring me here to see? I know it’s gotta be something special. You usually don’t care about commercials.” He gulped down his mouthful of food, then began to explain.

“It’s brilliant. This is, like, the nuclear option of car ads. You know that a lot of luxury cars aren’t made in developed countries anymore?”


“You do, but not many others. Nobody actually pays attention anymore. The people that buy them just assume they’re being put together by diligent men in white lab coats. Or skilled craftsmen with files and gauges. They don’t even read the window sticker.”

“So what? Do people actually care? Should they?” That smile crept back on his face again.

“Advertising is just telling people what they should and shouldn’t care about. It’s about inventing needs. It’s about making people anxious over stuff they never even thought about.”

“That’s nice. Why don’t you go write for Mother Jones?”

“Hey, screw you. I’m no hippie. I don’t even recycle.” He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and then reeled back around to his custom keyboard.

“Watch and learn something. This is going to be historic.” As I looked up at the screen, he hit play. The famous actor flashed his brilliant white teeth as he began to speak.

“There are a lot of ‘luxury’ cars on the market today,” he crooned, making smug little quotation marks with his hands as he said the magic l-word. “But where does ‘luxury’ really come from?” He walked past the sedan, towards a door on a blank white wall. He flashed another smirk at the camera as he twisted the knob and strode through the doorway.

Now the actor was standing outside a dingy factory. Sullen men in dirty uniforms were filing out. They were getting on bicycles or waiting trains to go home- not cars. Dogs barked in the potholed street, and graffiti covered the mostly abandoned buildings. There was another luxury sedan parked on the curb. The swoop of the camera got the badge in full relief- a famous luxury maker.

“Can a ‘luxury’ car come from Romania? After all, that’s where this one is made.” He gave the fender a little rap with his hand. Still smiling, he shook his head slightly. He grabbed another door, this time on a graffiti-tagged wall. He opened it, and strode into the next scene.

“How about Mexico? That’s where this maker builds its most popular luxury sedan.” Another sedan, another popular luxury marque. This time, they were in a dusty shipping yard. Supervisors were yelling at stooped workers, as they struggled to push newly completed cars into battered shipping containers. The fell into their slots with a great clanging and banging of metal. The actor had a look on his face that was something of a cross between bemusement and vague horror. He found his next door rather quickly. There was a shift in the music that indicated an incipient emotional high point. The door opened again.

This time, the camera revealed a Dickensian industrial nightmare. Swarms of incredibly dirty workers mobbed around an open-cast steel furnace. A giant bucket plunged into the liquid metal, strings of it flying off in great ghostly globs. The workers struggled to move a giant, soot-encrusted mold into position. The bucket hovered over the mold for a moment, and then poured its contents out haphazardly. Workers jumped and dodged to avoid the white-hot metal spilling onto the floor. Throughout this procedure, filmed in agonizingly high definition, the actor stood silently. Then, turning to the camera, he spoke.

“Can ‘luxury’ come from China? That’s where one major brand casts most of its engines and steel parts.” The workers were swarming back around the mold. They began to hit at it with sledgehammers and pickaxes. Suddenly, it cracked and violently split open. Standing there, still red-hot, was a cast sculpture of yet another luxury maker’s logo. The camera flipped back to the actor. His face had that same look of mild terror and bemusement that he regarded the Mexican street with. He walked back out the door.

Now he was standing in a well-lit, clean factory. A shiny new luxury car rolled off the end of a line, its horn giving a crisp honk. The actor smiled, this time with genuine appreciation. An in-car shot showed two men carefully inspecting the interior trim. One was an Asian man with a pocket flashlight and a studious expression. The other was an American with a clipboard and pen. As the car rolled to a stop, they got out in sync. The two men looked across the top of the car at each other, and nodded in mutual acknowledgment of a job well done. The camera refocused on the famous actor.

“All of Brand X’s cars and engines are made in Japan and the United States. After all, shouldn’t luxury cars be made by people that can appreciate them?” The scene cut away to Brand X’s logo and a slogan- “Made by the Luxury Professionals.” Larry was beaming.

“So what do you think?”

“Inane, possibly xenophobic, and full of misdirection. Nice job on the lighting effects, though.”

“This is big. This is going to shake up the whole paradigm.”

“I just don’t see the point, personally. I don’t think anyone really cares about where their cars are built anymore, Larry. Even luxury cars. Everybody buys stuff from the Third World.”

“You’re missing the point. Just because something is expensive doesn’t mean it can’t be a value. Origin is a big part of that. Think about the burrito that I just wolfed down. A big part of Chipotle’s marketing spiel is that you know exactly what you’re getting. The meat isn’t raised in factory farms. The vegetables are locally grown. This is stuff that people are willing to pay for.”

“There are a lot of luxury goods made with cheap labor. People still buy Iphones made in China.”

“And people are still dumb enough to believe that ‘exclusivity’ is what sells Iphones, not the fact that Droids are buggy garbage. A phone isn’t exactly a high-stakes investment. If it breaks, it’s not the end of the world. I’m not opposed to people outsourcing their cheap, low-stakes stuff. That’s how industrial economies get their start. There are some things that shouldn’t be gambled with, though. When people’s dogs are dying because their biscuits are laced with melamine, they start to pay attention. It’s not unreasonable to want to know where your important stuff is coming from, because there’s all kinds of ways to cut corners that aren’t obvious to the end consumer.”

“A car doesn’t have to be made in a specific place to be reliable. There have been plenty of German, American, and Japanese cars that weren’t exactly high quality.”

“True enough. But who wants to fork over $50,000 for a car that was made by guys earning $4.00 an hour? Where’s the added value for you, the consumer? They aren’t making it any more amazing because they scrimped on the labor. That’s just the company soaking you, man. When they build the same car in two places, one with decent labor standards and the other without, they aren’t cutting you a check for the difference. That money is just going right in the safe. Same thing with all these ‘luxury’ companies who are just selling their logo. They’re playing the global trade game, and you should too.”

“I guess I see your point.” Larry nodded.

“It’s a start.”

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37 Comments on “Sunday Story: Cheap Shot...”

  • avatar

    So true. Nothing is priced at cost plus anymore. Everything is priced at perceived value regardless of actual cost of production. And we all pay.

    • 0 avatar

      Everything has always been priced at perceived value. That’s simply where the supply and demand curve meet. That is true if you buy a fancy car handbag or if you buy equities at the stock exchange. This is also true if you exchange a US dollar for another currency – the exchange rate is determined by the currencies (and backing economies) relative perceived strength (and thus value).

  • avatar

    I’d think that luxury buyers would be delighted to see crippled serfs making their rides. Maybe show them being whipped and starved, too. Worked for ze Chermans.

    Larry could be a godsend for the competition.

  • avatar

    So this is the commercial pitch once Acura finally figures out how to build a real luxury car?

  • avatar

    If I don’t pay enormously more for it, I would certainly rather have my luxury car made in Germany. Certainly I am distressed that some of my beloved Mercedes cars are made elsewhere. That ad would certainly strike home for me.

    Of course my next car is likely to be a Tesla Model S, made in the USA. Just have to wait a few years for used pricing to go down.

    Speaking of luxury cars not made in Germany, where’s your CLA review, TTAC? I’m really curious to read it … I was intrigued by the car until I noticed the huge quality difference between its interior and that of the old school C-class right above it.


  • avatar

    Some do care though, and the market sometimes listens. Milo’s dog treats used to be made in China. I would never feed them to my dog and neither did many other people. Now they are made in America and advertised as such.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    >> “I guess I see your point.” Larry nodded.

    I’m not sure I do get his (or the author’s) point.

    Is the issue simply that luxury cars are being made the “wrong kind” of foreigner (which is nothing more than a nationalistic and/or xenophobic message), or that luxury cars are made in Dickensian sweatshops where workers are mistreated (which can be a social issue)?

    If it is the latter, why would you choose the phrase: “After all, shouldn’t luxury cars be made by people that can appreciate them?”? That line in itself oozes with racist undertones.

    • 0 avatar

      // “I guess I see your point.” Larry nodded.

      That confused me, too until I realized the author should have dropped “Larry nodded” down a line.

      The author said “I guess I see your point.”
      Then Larry nodded.

      As to who said “It’s a start”, I have no clue. Nor do I know what the author’s message here is.

      • 0 avatar
        Zekele Ibo

        I’m not sure the line-break would fix things :) The argument developed in the article is a muddled mess swinging from mild xenophobia to a possibly-genuine concern for working conditions in developing-world factories. It seems important to strenuously avoid any hint of the former when trying to expose the latter, and the article fails to do so. “Developing-world manufacturing” and “Dickensian sweatshops” are not analogous.

        With respect to whether the consumer benefits from the reduced costs of off-shore factories, does the author think an iPhone would cost the same if it was manufactured in North America?

      • 0 avatar

        I haven’t got a clue either, other than “wide eyed video production boy argues his idea ad nauseum”.

        I’d like to add to this, at the end, the words “off to sleep”;
        The author said “I guess I see your point.”
        Then Larry nodded.

  • avatar

    I could not care less where my cars are assembled. Robots in China are the same as robots in Germany. I care more about where my cars are designed. I tend towards European designs, they just feel right to me. And that is what I care about, not the brand or where it was made. Or even the cost, to some extent.

    • 0 avatar

      >> I tend towards European designs, they just feel right to me.

      I feel the same way. I’ve always partially attributed that to the fact that the roads in New England that I drive every day more closely resemble Europe than the roads around Southeastern Michigan that I drove as a youth.

  • avatar

    There still is at least one place where cars are made expensively:

  • avatar

    I don’t think people care. When I was younger and cared more about such things, I used to buy high end shoes that were made in Europe usually Italy. I believe they were better built and more comfortable. Plus they were stylish. I knew they were overpriced, but being half Italian at least I could say I was helping out my brethren back in the home country. Plus I knew labor over there was really expensive which helped explain some of the high cost.

    A few years ago I decided to splurge and buy some really nice shoes, I was shocked to see they were all made in China. And the prices seemed to well outpace inflation.

    My wife has expensive tastes in purses. Maybe 8-10 years ago they were still often made in Italy and I could justify the price of the reasons above. Now they are all made in China too.

    Like I said, I never heard anyone else mention this as an issue so no one cares where luxury goods are made. Only when Chinese made stuff kills your dog do you finally pay attention.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I’m not sure there are any high-end shoes being made in China. Kenneth Cole et al source their junk there but everybody from Alden to Zegna continues to make shoes in Western countries.

      • 0 avatar

        Prada makes some of their shoes in China. I have no idea which ones or if they are sold here. They also import Chinese Labor to Italy so they can still stamp “Made in Italy” on leather goods made at with Chinese level wages.

        I’ll take a pair of Allen Edmonds or Aldens over Prada any day though.

  • avatar

    Some cars still have a character that comes from the people who build them. Unfortuantly computers, robots and regulations have limited the human touch, so that now cars are so bland that it doesn’t really matter.

  • avatar

    Love the idea of the commercial. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that the cars are designed in one country (and some of the Asian manufactures have design centers in the US), Assembled in another, with parts from all over the world. I don’t know where the chips and electronics come from, but they gotta be made by people in white coats. Iphone assembly plants have workers, no matter how exploited, that wear white coats.

    However, an ad like this would be very effective for clothing. A lot of stuff with recognizable logos are made in Cambodia and Vietnam.

    “Unions and workers for Cambodia’s garment and footwear industries have been demanding that the government raise minimum wages to U.S. $160 a month [from $80 to $95] and improve working conditions, as well as the release of 23 people arrested in connection with labor protests.

    The 23 were arrested after a Jan. 3 shootout by security forces during a strike by garment workers demanding higher minimum wages left five people dead and wounded several others.”

    Labor in China is too expensive now.

    If they are really making engine blocks in Bangladesh now … this would be a nuclear option for luxury cars.

    I saw a picture of a foundry in India where the workers were barefoot.

    • 0 avatar

      Cars are actually a pretty good value when compared to clothes when you compare cost to selling price. Seriously, what materials, labor, and R&D go into a shirt? They probably spend more money getting Lebron signed on to endorse the product line than they do actually making the first run of his shoes. Cars have a pretty small profit margin while shirts can be marked down 50% and still be profitable to the distributor and manufacturer. American trucks are about the only car that you’ll see massive discounts (20% at best?) and the vehicle still being profitable. I’d say a decent portion of the cars out there are sold at cost when all is said and done.

    • 0 avatar

      Foundries are hot, it makes sense to keep your feet cool!

  • avatar

    I guarantee that while all of the hypothetical Brand X’s cars are assembled in the US or Japan, the parts that go into them are not all made in those two locations, nor can they be anymore. Engines, yes, that could be done. But isn’t engine performance and durability tied to many other parts? The electronic controller, the exhaust system, the transmission, the radiator, the oil and water pumps – you get my point.

    So, you have to choose a manufacturer based on engineering and control of the quality coming from the supply base.

    As for China, I try not to buy anything that goes into my mouth or on my skin (shampoo, lotion, etc.) from there. Same thing for my pets. Although not all pet food labels tell you where the ingredients come from.

    I also trust Canadian quality, and most parts and vehicles made or assembled in Mexico are fine.

    A final note: today’s Sunday story is more of an editorial allegory than true fiction. That’s okay, but please run more tales when you get them.

  • avatar

    Nicely written, not too long and straight to the points.

    I personally don’t worry about where a car was made as much as the conditions, I wouldn’t want a car made in the same torture factory that makes Ijunk.

    Design is a crucial point though, todays engineers face a tough challenge when they have to deal with the junk modern designers are spewing out.

    As much as I want to praise the last W-Body Impala for its clean design versus modern cars, I remembered the view out back, and that its a GM.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I think luxury and prestige are two words that are misused nowadays.

    The vehicle manufacturers (and many others) and their marketing whips caused this. But why? How can a consumer product really be luxury, when most have it, ie, iPhone or equivalent?

    People who spend a little more than average want to feel special. The cost of an item is an indicator of perceived quality and prestige.

    Look at an Escalade, it’s nothing more than a cheap vehicle spruced up to appear to be something it isn’t.

    Even my BT50 isn’t a luxury vehicle, even though as it would be called in the US it’s a ‘highend’ BT50.

    The guys who will not buy something so someone can be paid $4ph are real losers. You guys are similar to a racist. Fancy stating I will not buy something because a person earns this amount.

    But what can $4 dollars buy in their country? I bet a $hitload more than the US, so that $4 might translate into $10 in real terms.

    I bet you guys will cry if the minimum wage in the US goes to $10ph. Imagine paying a quarter more for a hamburger.

    I see many hypocrites on TTAC.

  • avatar
    Zekele Ibo

    Here’s a question: name one luxury car manufacturer which could run such an ad?

    Even if you find a manufacturer does not currently assemble any of their vehicles in the developing world (and I can’t think of any in this position), then many parts used will be made in those countries. Also, luxury car manufacturers aren’t just interested in the NAFTA market – I believe Mercedes sells more vehicles in China alone than in the US – so the whole concept is spurious.

    • 0 avatar

      Rolls-Royce. They are the king of cars, they can do whatever they want.

      Aston Martin probably could too.

      • 0 avatar

        Brits want to know they are exploiting proper, overdressed and under-deodorized white guys for their truly exclusive toys.

        Any yob can exploit “the little 5-foot-5 nations”.

      • 0 avatar
        Zekele Ibo

        Rolls-Royce are wholly owned by BMW, who build luxury cars in several developing nations.

        Aston Martin?! You mean the same Aston Martin who had to recall thousands of cars just this year due to poorly-made Chinese parts?

        As for Morgan, they are not really a luxury car company, they build specialist sports cars. The world would end if suddenly it was found that they got their ash panels from Chinese trees!

        • 0 avatar

          BMW may build cars in developing countries, but the RR marque does not.

          As for Aston, they are cheeky enough to use fake plastic parts and make the commercial anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      TVR probably could have, but they don’t count as luxury.

      Oh oh, Weissmann.

  • avatar

    I like the commercial, follow it up with one mocking CUVs and espousing all of its weaknesses/dead ends and then we’ll have something.

    The more you think its “OK” to purchase high margin goods from the third world the more you hurt your own economy in a macro sense.

    • 0 avatar

      The CUV is just the evolution of the station wagon. When SUVs hit the scene, people realized that vertical space in a vehicle’s cabin was advantageous. It was easier to buckle the kid in the car seat when you didn’t have to slouch down to get your head under the doorframe. It was easier to get tall cargo in the back. Seatbacks could be more vertical, helping rear legroom, and still have adequate headroom and comfort in the front seats. 4WD availability was handy, too. The caveat was that they were heavy, inefficient, and had a high step in height. So, they said, why not build the tall SUV body on a car chassis? You get the tall, upright, boxy cabin of the SUV riding on a car chassis with a slightly stroked suspension which allows for AWD without intruding into the cabin and enough clearance that you aren’t dragging the minute you get off the pavement. Yeah, they aren’t as good offroad as a real SUV. But they are miles better than a long, low station wagon. They aren’t as efficient as station wagons… but they are miles better than an SUV. They are the perfect “tweener” size in the way that the drivetrain isn’t trying to run “through” the passenger compartment; it runs just under it. The extra vertical space means that rear seat bottoms aren’t fighting for space with the rear fenders so you get good legroom and you don’t have to push the wheels to the corners.

      I have a station wagon and a CUV built off the same platform in my driveway right now. The station wagon has a worse turn radius because, in order to get good rear legroom, they had to push the rear wheels rearward and lengthen the wheelbase. Now your rear suspension is directly under the cargo area. Where the does spare tire go? Right above the rear suspension now instead of over the aft portion of the rear suspension. That brings the load floor higher. Now, my measurement from load floor to ceiling has decreased. From a pure packaging perspective, CUVs are pretty hard to beat. Mileage and handling are close enough to a station wagon that people are willing to compromise that for the extra space, comfort, and ability to keep rolling in the snow/outdoors.

  • avatar

    It shouldn’t matter where a car is made as long as it’s designed and engineered to the standards you expect from whatever company you chose. If there is major differences in the quality of the manufacturing on the same car from one location to another then that car company has some serious problems

  • avatar

    I have no interest in driving the car at all after seeing the commercial. None of it made the car seem fun. Seems to be targeted towards the sedan crowd, who ended up buying sedans. So a failure in marketing or a failure in design? (The term failure used based on sales figures)

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