"Buy American" sounds great -- but the problem is, there isn't much to buy anymore that's truly American.

You buy a Ford hybrid, but guess what? Its hybrid systems are Toyota-sourced. That General Motors small SUV you have your eyes on? Well, take a look under the hood. It may say Saturn -- but the engine's built by Honda (GM buys engines for the Saturn Vue and other vehicles from Honda -- as well as Honda-built transmissions). Chrysler is now DaimlerChrysler -- and a wholly-owned subsidiary of a foreign industrial conglomerate (Daimler AG). Chrysler-badged cars like the popular 300-series sedan and Crossfire coupe are basically custom-bodied knock-offs of Mercedes-Benz designed vehicles --specifically, the E-Class sedan and SLK roadster. For some time (and pre-Daimler) several Chrysler vehicles used Mitsubishi-built engines -- or were, in fact, Mitsubishis with slightly different exterior styling and a "Dodge" badge glued to the fender.

Many of today's cars (or their major components) are assembled in different countries before being sold under the nameplate of their home country -- and this goes for the "import" as well as the "domestics." GM and Ford have plants in Mexico; Nissan, Honda and Hyundai have plants in the United States. There are "American" cars that are built entirely in Mexico -- and "Japanese" cars that are built entirely in the United States.

Which of these is the "foreign" car?

But when you buy an American car, the profits stay in America -- or so the argument goes. In fact, the profits can (and do) go overseas or across the border, to finance (for example) new plants in other countries -- and by definition, jobs for foreign workers at the expense of American workers. Contrariwise, if you buy a Nissan built in Tennessee by an American worker you have helped to support an American worker.

Right?

This is the reality of the global free market -- and of the multinational conglomerate. There is no such thing anymore as an "American" car company -- or, for that matter, a "Japanese" one. Money is fungible; which means, it shifts and moves about as easily as dry leaves on a windy October afternoon. Your dollar might be split in myriad ways -- a portion going to pay for your new car's Brazilian-sourced transmission, its German electronics or maybe its Japanese engine. Even if you carefully research and confine your buying expedition to only those cars with an "American" nameplate that are built entirely in U.S. plants, you will still be purchasing some degree of foreign content -- and the profit earned from the sale will go to support the company's operations, including those across-the-border plants and the purchasing of foreign-built parts and components.

It's like trying to unstir coffee you've already put the creamer in, or buying the Blow-Pop just to get the little nugget of candy in the middle. You still have to buy the whole lollipop.

Economic nationalism is great -- in theory. But there has to be reciprocity on the part of the home-brand companies -- and policies and laws to protect them from the ravages of "competition" from low-wage foreign enterprises -- and the lure of increasing their own bottom line by "outsourcing" jobs and facilities to low-wage, low-cost foreign countries. Why should an American consumer support the exportation of U.S. jobs to Mexico (or China) by purchasing a "Ford" or "GM" car assembled in Mexico or China? Particularly when he could buy a Honda assembled in Ohio that helps to maintain an American worker's livelihood?

Free trade works both ways. If it makes "economic sense" for a U.S. automaker to close an "expensive, outdated" facility in Michigan (and toss several thousand American workers out of their jobs) and then open up a lower-cost facility South of the Border, then surely it's equally sensible (and justified) for an American car buyer to select the best car he can get for his money -- no matter where it happens to be built or what the brand name happens to be.

As Dr. Lecter liked to say: Quid pro quo, Clarice.


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