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

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
uaw could soon tell you to 8216 buy american but will buyers listen

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.

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  • 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.

  • BEPLA My own theory/question on the Mark VI:Had Lincoln used the longer sedan wheelbase on the coupe - by leaning the windshield back and pushing the dashboard & steering wheel rearward a bit - not built a sedan - and engineered the car for frameless side windows (those framed windows are clunky, look cheap, and add too many vertical lines in comparison to the previous Marks) - Would the VI have remained an attractive, aspirational object of desire?
  • VoGhost Another ICEbox? Pass. Where are you going to fill your oil addiction when all the gas stations disappear for lack of demand? I want a pickup that I can actually use for a few decades.
  • Art Vandelay Best? PCH from Ventura to somewhere near Lompoc. Most Famous? Route Irish
  • GT Ross The black wheel fad cannot die soon enough for me.
  • Brett Woods My 4-Runner had a manual with the 4-cylinder. It was acceptable but not really fun. I have thought before that auto with a six cylinder would have been smoother, more comfortable, and need less maintenance. Ditto my 4 banger manual Japanese pick-up. Nowhere near as nice as a GM with auto and six cylinders that I tried a bit later. Drove with a U.S. buddy who got one of the first C8s. He said he didn't even consider a manual. There was an article about how fewer than ten percent of buyers optioned a manual in the U.S. when they were available. Visited my English cousin who lived in a hilly suburb and she had a manual Range Rover and said she never even considered an automatic. That's culture for you.  Miata, Boxster, Mustang, Corvette and Camaro; I only want manual but I can see both sides of the argument for a Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Once you get past a certain size and weight, cruising with automatic is a better dynamic. A dual clutch automatic is smoother, faster, probably more reliable, and still allows you to select and hold a gear. When you get these vehicles with a high performance envelope, dual-clutch automatic is what brings home the numbers.