UAW Could Soon Tell You to 'Buy American,' But Will Buyers Listen?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Before the end of the 1980s, disenchanted drivers were voting with their wallets in ever greater numbers. Family sedan buyers, burned by the quality control issues of the late 1970s, turned their attention to the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, while German automakers increasingly carved off a larger slice of the premium segment pie.

In many cases, the buyers who turned their backs on domestic vehicles stayed in their new camp for years, buying another, and then another Japanese or German car. Luring them back remains a difficult task, as stigma often fades at a slower rate than quality improves.

“Buy American” campaigns are nothing new, but President Donald Trump’s ascent to the Oval Office has spurred a newfound focus on the health of the Detroit Three automakers. In a bid to bolster that health, the United Auto Workers union is on the verge of telling you to drive past all those import dealers.

Come home to America.

Yesterday, UAW president Dennis Williams said his union is considering taking out ads to capitalize on the resurgence of “Buy American” attitudes, The Detroit News reports.

“We’re seeing a trend in this country that boycott may be coming back,” Williams said, adding that the public’s buying decisions could help manufacturing businesses invest — or relocate — to the U.S. While he hasn’t yet met with Trump, Williams is pleased the president opted “to scrap” the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Last November, Williams pushed for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement — another wish that will soon be granted.

While “Buy American” sounds nice, two and a half decades of NAFTA means all vehicles sold in the U.S. have varying amounts of parts built in other countries. Some domestic vehicles start life in a Mexican factory, while buyers can snag a Toyota, Subaru or Volkswagen built in the U.S. At best, new car shoppers can only buy “Mostly American.”

“First and foremost, I want them to buy union vehicles,” Williams said when asked to clarify his stance on the now-murky slogan. “Secondary, I’d rather have them buy made in U.S.A.”

Should the UAW go forward with its ad campaign, measuring its success won’t be easy. As always, the onus is on domestic automakers to lure new customers to the brand — not an easy task when dealing with a (mainly) automotive-illiterate society. The Detroit Three can improve its products all it wants, but there will always be a large crop of potential buyers who grimly recall a lemon they owned 30 years ago.

In a study of 2016 car buyers, IHS Markit discovered GM enjoyed the highest rate of manufacturer loyalty, with the highest percentage of repeat buyers in the industry. Ford ranked highest in brand loyalty. Holding on to repeat buyers is important, but overall health and long-term sustainability comes from attracting new ones. In that camp, Jeep poached the most buyers from other brands.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

More by Steph Willems

Join the conversation
2 of 89 comments
  • Dr. Claw Dr. Claw on Feb 19, 2017

    With how globalized the auto industry has become, is this even feasible? Outside of buying an American brand? which tbh, isn't entirely a bad thing. even though I don't like that GM is trying to razor off Opel (and has more or less done the same to Holden), buying one of their cars isn't exactly a bad thing. I kind of wish that they'd make a wagon version of one of their cars Stateside; I've no interest in any kind of crossover.

  • Von Von on Feb 20, 2017

    Nobody tells people to "buy Japanese", but they gained so much market share because they are good products at good prices, however the market defines those attributes at the time. In these tough times, nothing will scream buy American louder than a great product at a great price. Anything else is just wasted breath.

  • MaintenanceCosts "But your author does wonder what the maintenance routine is going to be like on an Italian-German supercar that plays host to a high-revving engine, battery pack, and several electric motors."Probably not much different from the maintenance routine of any other Italian-German supercar with a high-revving engine.
  • 28-Cars-Later "The unions" need to not be the UAW and maybe there's a shot. Maybe.
  • 2manyvettes I had a Cougar of similar vintage that I bought from my late mother in law. It did not suffer the issues mentioned in this article, but being a Minnesota car it did have some weird issues, like a rusted brake line.(!) I do not remember the mileage of the vehicle, but it left my driveway when the transmission started making unwelcome noises. I traded it for a much newer Ford Fusion that served my daughter well until she finished college.
  • TheEndlessEnigma Couple of questions: 1) who will be the service partner for these when Rivian goes Tits Up? 2) What happens with software/operating system support when Rivia goes Tits Up? 3) What happens to the lease when Rivian goes Tits up?
  • Richard I loved these cars, I was blessed to own three. My first a red beauty 86. My second was an 87, 2+2, with digital everything. My third an 87, it had been ridden pretty hard when I got it but it served me well for several years. The first two I loved so much. Unfortunately they had fuel injection issue causing them to basically burst into flames. My son was with me at 10 years old when first one went up. I'm holding no grudges. Nissan gave me 1600$ for first one after jumping thru hoops for 3 years. I didn't bother trying with the second. Just wondering if anyone else had similar experience. I still love those cars.