The Nissan Technical Center in Farmington Hills, MI (Ni... The Nissan Technical Center in Farmington Hills, MI (Nissan).
Four months ago, Chrysler took the highly unusual step of advertising its Detroit roots during the Super Bowl.

The campaign has drawn a lot of attention, as well as mixed reviews for its effectiveness. Detroit, indeed most of Southeast Michigan, after all, has a reputation as a broken and battered city. What will surprise many car buyers, though, is that the leading Asian auto makers turn to the expertise found in the greater Detroit area to engineer many of their most important vehicles for the U.S.

Take the Toyota Tundra pickup truck. A slow seller so far since Toyota introduced the brawny pickup in early 2008, the Tundra is nonetheless a very capable pickup that Toyota expects to eventually challenge the Ford F Series and Chevy Silverado with builders and contractors once the pall lifts off the new-house construction industry. The truck was not engineered and developed in Japan, though, but rather at Toyota's technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich., about 45 miles west of Detroit.

Best Selling Car in America Born in Detroit -- To Toyota

Toyota's tech center, which has also led engineering on such important models as the Toyota Camry (the best-selling sedan in the U.S.), Toyota Avalon and Highlander, and Lexus ES350, is not alone in choosing greater Detroit as a center for engineering and technical development. Hyundai, Nissan and Honda also have major presences here.

"The best asset southeast Michigan has for the future is not so much labor, but the enormous intellectual property development that is here and the experience of engineers," says David Cole, chairman emeritus of The Center or Auto Research, in Ann Arbor, Mich. Cole is also leading a new venture, AutoHarvest, an Ann Arbor-based firm that seeks to being together auto companies, other industries and university researchers together to exchange intellectual property.

Indeed, as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have downsized in the last decade, thousands of engineers have found work at the Asian transplants hoping to tap their know-how, especially of the U.S. market. And the tech centers have presented key opportunities for engineering graduates from the University of Michigan and Michigan State University.

Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia, for example, share a tech center in Ann Arbor that led the way on the current Hyundai Sonata and Santa Fe.

"Hyundai leverages our Michigan engineering talent in a way that dramatically impacts our product line here in the U.S.," says Hyundai Motor America CEO John Krafcik, an engineer who formally worked at Ford and Toyota.

Hyundai's Michigan-based team handle various critical tasks such as the certification of the Hyundai power-trains according to U.S. federal safety and emission standards, and drive many aspects of the in-car entertainment, navigation, and Blue Link telematics systems in the vehicles. The Michigan tech center also oversees a separate vehicle engineering center in California, which handles chassis and noise-vibration-harshness tuning for all U.S. Hyundai products."

Toyota's Ann Arbor-based tech center has proved invaluable to the company's rise in the U.S. While the Japanese company is known for quality, innovation of hybrid systems and world class efficient production of its vehicles, it had its share of product duds before it turned over engineering on several models to its Michigan-based staff. Early versions of Toyota minivans and pickup trucks developed in Japan were flops. It wasn't until the Sienna minivan and Tundra pickups got Michigan makeovers that they were competitive and ready to challenge Ford, GM and Chrysler in those categories.

There is a community of auto industry engineering and research that is part of the University of Michigan, and has been built up by nearby GM, Ford and Chrysler, as well as the numerous auto supplier companies with headquarters or facilities around Southeast Michigan.

Detroit has gotten a bad name with a lot of the public because of some really bad management at the top of the U.S. companies in the last two decades. But with the wealth of intelligence and talent among engineers, designers and the universities in Michigan, the Asian companies could hardly have gone anywhere else in the U.S. to find the same talent pool.

Ford and Chrysler are examples of how management changes at the top have unleashed talent that was always there at the companies. Ford CEO Alan Mulally has made very few changes of people at Ford, and the same is true of Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne. Dramatically better products are coming from largely the same people but with much smarter people calling shots at the top.

Nissan's Farmington Hills, Mich., tech center was opened in the 1990s, and has been the home base for developing the Nissan Altima sedan, Quest minivan, Titan pickup, Versa sub-compact, Leaf electric vehicle and others.

Understanding "Quality"

Reputations for quality still separate brands, and a lot of the systems that customers score for quality on surveys are all hatched and engineered in Michigan where the company is Ford or Toyota. In the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, Chrysler and Ford tumbled in the ranking, which measures quality as reported by customers in the first 90 days of ownership. Lexus (Toyota), Honda and Acura (part of Honda) were the top three brands. General Motors Cadillac and GMC brands were the only U.S. brands to score above the industry average.

Sounds like bad news for the U.S. brands again. But there really isn't that much separating the top from the middle. As J.D. Power officials explained, Ford, for one, has lost ground because its buyers are having a hard time getting used to new engines that are more fuel efficient but do not drive exactly like the old one, and from new-fangled communications and entertainment systems. It takes time to get used to the new way things work and 90 days isn't that long. If the poor ranking persists at when Power measures three years of ownership, then Ford will have a real problem, not just a perceived one.

It's even hard to find big gaps in quality when looking at the actual ranking. Take Chevy, which placed 11th in the survey, 25 points below number-two Honda. Honda customers reported an average of 86 problems per 100 vehicles, while Chevy averaged 111 problems reported per 100 vehicles. What appears to be a huge quality gap doesn't appear to big.

In any case, as Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai all topped GM, Ford and Chrysler in the IQS ranking, it's a sign that the know-how to get things right does reside in and around Detroit, the Motor City, if the managers at the top of the companies know how to extract it and put it in our driveways.


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  • 126 Comments
      gr8bsn
      • 3 Years Ago
      American car consumers pay way too much for stuff they don't need in a car. As a result, American cars are boring to drive. They have unresponsive automatics and a "floaty" road feel. If I wanted to drive a boat, I'd join the Navy or Coast Guard. I want tight handling, good brakes, and I want to row through my own gears on a real manual transmission (flappy paddle shifters don't count).
      • 3 Years Ago
      to mamatiger919 I'm so glad to read your comment, just hope the rest of this country GETS THE PICTURE, Its true about union workers, pay us a decent wage so we can go out there and buy cars, trucks,etc.etc.....but I think the general public just doesn't get it unfortunately. Too bad.
      wwreatonfl1
      • 3 Years Ago
      Your comments are noticed but are not totally backed up with data. I have a almost 10 year old Chrysler with high miles and have never had any problems with it except a gas guage level sensor when new under warranty. I average 24.5 mpg overall and as high as 29mpg on the highway. My wifes Ford Taraus is the same. Both have 3.5 lTR. v-6 ENGINES. MANY IN MY FAMILY HAVE OWNED JAP CARS AND EVERY JAP CAR WE HAVE OWNED HAS PROVED TO COST TWICE AS MUCH TO MAINTAIN AS OUR AMERICAN MADE CARS. i WILL KEEP MY MONEY IN AMERICA AND NOT SEND IT TO SOME FORIEGN NATION COMPANY.
      mlfertig
      • 3 Years Ago
      Big problem is that even many (or most) of the "American" cars built here are comprised substantially of parts that are manufactured in Japan and other foreign countries...There may even be more "American' in a US built Honda than Chevy
      • 3 Years Ago
      Problem is they are a foreign company with there Hdqtrs in Japan, they only have offices here, all the money goes back to Japan and they do not have to pay income taes on there profit being it goes back to Japan, I found this out with a foreign airline in giving them a rcpt for a charity donation, I was told they do not need it as they do not pay income taxes here. While I would think that American do not pay income taxes in other countries I see a problem, more & more American companies are moving out, foreign companies are moving in and it is not a straight trade
        fndr1954
        • 3 Years Ago
        All the profits may go back to Japan, but the manufacturing and sales facilities were built with American labor, employ American workers, manage American benefit and retirement plans for employees, arrange financing for America buyers, and on and on. And what profit % was that really? If Toyota pulled out of the US there'd be a hole large enough to drive a Tundra thru.
      larry
      • 3 Years Ago
      Beautiful building. Why can't they turn out cars that look this dynamic ? ? ?
        • 3 Years Ago
        @larry
        Are you living in a shed?? Nissan makes beautiful cars.
          patr728
          • 3 Years Ago
          Totally agree! My favorite has always been the Pathfinder. Not so much since 2005, but owned quite a few prior to that!
      • 3 Years Ago
      I disagree. They have invested billions in plants here that employ thousands of Americans with above average wages and decent benefits. The towns where the plants are located received huge tax base revenues, and the employees spend their pay on other goods and services in their community. Hondas, Toyotas, and Nissans have more U.S.A made components in them than Fords and GM's. Ford and GM source car part manufacturing to Mexico mainly. I know you are a very loyal American who loves your Country, but the old days of the Big Three supporting a large part of our Gross Domestic Product are over. If Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and Subaru and may I add Mercedes Benz (plant in Alabama) did not employee these Americans who would K-Mart? I think what we as extremely concerned citizens must do is demand our Congress provide a financial climate with incentives so any kind of manufacturing is attractive here so long as it is environmentally responsible. You do know that GM and Ford are big manufacturers in China and Europe. GM is the biggest foreign car maker for China. I suggest getting your Congressperson's contact info from your Sunday newspaper and email them and tell them how you feel. You are right in that without a stronger manufacturing base, the U.S.A's middle class will never be the same as it was. I don't have all the answers, but Believe me, I belong to AARP and we send huge quantities of emails to Congress--and they LISTEN. If 100,000 Americans rode into D. C. on reving motorcycles and made the windows of Congress vibrate they would get it. The listen when our American Veterans ride into town, and they would listen if the rest of us rode in and shook the windows. By changing trade and financial law we can return manufacturing to the U.S.A.. Emotion no matter how well intended will never accomplish anything but a moment of venting.
        mhcontain
        • 3 Years Ago
        Nissan has what 2 plants in the US. Give me a break. As far as the components you are wrong again. You have no idea what you are talking about. Toyota makes a few models here, but not all, the Scions and Lexuses come from Japan. Check out the number of employees in the US for Ford, Toyota, and GM the yall have the same market share yet Ford and GM hve 3 times as many employees. You have been conned my friend.
          mrmoncure
          • 3 Years Ago
          @mhcontain
          WRONG @mhcontain! You've been conned! What you are saying is blatently untrue! The only car company that builds more cars in America than Toyota is Ford. Ford #1, TOYOTA #2.
          ttruckr23
          • 3 Years Ago
          @mhcontain
          Toyota has assembly plants in TN, KY, IN, TX, AL, CA, MS and who knows where else. Honda in OH, AL. Kia in GA. VW in TN. Mazda in MI. BMW in SC, Mercedes Benz in AL. Those aren't all of 'em and they're assembly plants. Suppliers are all over the country though it seems that some of the car makers are trying to get their vendors to build withing a 2hr. drive in order to utilize the Just in Time principle to the max. Granted, some also get parts from overseas but many, many of their parts vendors are right here in the US of A. I don't care where the profits go to, it's the average US worker that's my concern..... and the ones that benefit cities & towns all over the US when they spend their paychecks at home...... something more of us should do in order to stem the bleeding of the manufacturing base we used to have. Oh, let me not forget that the bailouts went to homegrown car companies from right here in the good, old USA and not to the "foreighn" companies you're so scared of..... except for Chrysler, which has become an offshoot of an Eye-talian owner. Here in GA the brand spanky new Kia plant in West Point has many of its vendors withinh something lie 50 miles. The even newer VW plant in Chattanooga (1600 employees, expanding to around 2200 soon) operates in the same way from what I've read in the paper. In my town in GA (and a former freight customer of mine) is a company that ships plastic interior panels & parts to TN, OH and other places for "foreign" car companies.
        uh34d
        • 3 Years Ago
        Very well said RL. Congress has been too busy with foreign markets and their tax deals to our corporations than working on incentives to retain and build manufacturing jobs here in the US. Congress is too busy worrying about, and keeping foreign countries happy instead of planting the Flag here at home. Sadly, most Americans have become far too complacent to expect results from our collective voices, 'We the People.' I would love to see the emotion today by Americans that was displayed during the Vietnam War. No matter which side you supported, the 'People' spoke and it changed the direction of our Country. Now if only we could get people to do the same thing today about our incessant war machine, the idea of a military Pax Americana being expunged from our political psyche, America may again rise in economic dominance and power and create economic prosperity for the majority of our citizens.
      mhcontain
      • 3 Years Ago
      Look at the average domestic content, and employees in the US compared to market share and you will find out that the fact is Ford, GM and Chrysler do far more in the US than the foreign companies. Honda does a fair amount in the US, but Toyota and the rest do very little with most models and many parts coming from Japan. Those are the facts.
        mrmoncure
        • 3 Years Ago
        @mhcontain
        Wrong!! Those aren't the facts! Toyota is largely born in the US w/ both engineering & design done in Torrance, California & Ann Arbor, MI. You are wrong on this. Toyota's are "more" American than the "domestics" bar Ford.
          Debbie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @mrmoncure
          They've tried to get in the USA market since the early 70'S., but failed until now. I've seen it and lived.
      alfordtl
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good Lord, this guy needs to use a spell and grammar checker.
        Danny
        • 3 Years Ago
        @alfordtl
        I thought the same thing. So many mistakes it was hard to read.
      • 3 Years Ago
      this is news to people? Japanese companies have been in Detroit for 40 years! hell the Ford Mustang is made here in a Mazda factory and has been for a really long time.
      mebertandalex
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hondas are made in Lincoln, Alabama; Hyundais are made in Montgomery. Mercedes SUV's are made somewhere in the state. So it's not just Detroit - Tokyo - or Berlin!
      Megabob
      • 3 Years Ago
      BUY AMERICAN!!!! No matter if your foreign car is built here, the vast majority of your money goes overseas. American cars in the old days were not so good, but now, they are as good and in a lot of cases better then foreign cars!
        defensearms
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Megabob
        and whaT IS AMERICAN? Ford have plants in Mexico and Chevy in Canada...all American companies just assemble imported parts...get the facts
        mrmoncure
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Megabob
        After producing tons of crap for years and taking BILLIONS in taxpayer money. Are you serious?
          Debbie
          • 3 Years Ago
          @mrmoncure
          What he says is true.
        R L Baker
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Megabob
        Good idea. Now just how many Americans would you have lost their jobs if the foreign plants were to close in this country? Americans are employed at these plants, they pay taxes on their income, they spend their dollars in their local economy, that money in turn is used to hire other workers in shops, resturants, who in turn pay taxes and spend money. You need to think just a bit more before you spout off.
          Megabob
          • 3 Years Ago
          @R L Baker
          It is you who needs to learn how to think. If all the cars bought here were American, then domestic plants would have to increase dramatically. And those who now work at foreign plants would be hired to work for American companies. And again, our money would stay here to stimulate the economy and produce even MORE JOBS!!!!!!!
          Megabob
          • 3 Years Ago
          @R L Baker
          It is you who needs to think. If we all bought only American cars, domestic car plants would have to increase dramatically. So those who now work at foreign plants would be needed to make American cars. And again our money would stay here and greatly help improve the economy!
        ttruckr23
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Megabob
        If your "foreign" car is built here then the vast amount of the money stays here in the form of wages and/or payments to vendors here. A large number of GM and other "American" brands are built either in Messisko or with parts made there. They might be assembled here in the end but to cuss out "foreign" brands that are actually made here is absurd. I could care less if the eventual corporate profits go elsewhere, it's the working stiff assembling the finished vehicle, making the various parts that's my concern. They're the ones been spit on by the corproate heirarchy. And, as was mentioned, no "bailouts" by Uncle Barry for the "foreign" brands here.
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