Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Irrelevance of "Buy American Only"

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Photo courtesy General Motors

I remember when I was a kid there was a huge push in the United States against Japanese vehicles. My family formerly owned a big Ford LTD station wagon that was a hunk of junk, so there was little love for domestic cars in our household. In fact all but one car we owned were Japanese and were super reliable. I would watch the news at night and see videos of rallies at different domestic car dealerships across the country where people literally bashed in Toyota Camrys and Honda Civics with baseball bats and monster trucks as a way of taking out their frustration for what American automakers claimed was "unfair business practices." At the time I was puzzled about why people were so outraged.

In the end it has been proven that Japanese automakers weren't engaging in unscrupulous business practices and instead were doing some rather innovative things. Still, American automakers leaned heavily on people's patriotic sensibilities, saying that buying American-made automobiles was the patriotic thing to do.

A lot has changed since then, although some people haven't gotten the memo that the term "buy American" is pretty much irrelevant at this point. The fact is that many "foreign" cars are manufactured in America and there are even some "American" cars that are manufactured elsewhere.

2013 Honda Pilot. Photo courtesy American Honda Motor Co.

Case in point: the Honda Pilot and Ridgeline. Both are large vehicles made just for the North American market, and both are manufactured at Honda's factory located in Lincoln, Alabama. German automaker BMW has a plant in South Carolina while its rival Mercedes-Benz has a large plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I could go on, but hopefully you get the point. These factories are staffed by American workers on American soil. Some of the vehicles manufactured in them have been designed and engineered by Americans, which is a smart move considering Americans know pretty well what appeals to Americans.

Conversely, there are many examples of "American" cars that are made outside of this country. The Chevrolet Camaro is a prime example of this, with the current generation being manufactured in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. I should note that General Motors has announced the next generation of the pony car will be made in Michigan once more. Still, there are other "American" cars manufactured elsewhere (like the new Chevrolet SS, which will be made in Australia). 

So the next time someone tries to guilt you into "buying American" to show your patriotism, remember that they are just ill-informed about the current automotive manufacturing business.


  1. Great blog Steven. I've been trying to tell people this stuff forever, but they never seem to comprehend what I'm saying. It is simply impossible to buy an all American car nowadays. According to AutoWeek (, the most "American made" vehicle today is the Toyota Matrix, whom sources 95 percent of its content from North America. Next is the Toyota Avalon with 85 percent. Finally in third with only 83 percent of its parts made in the US is the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana. Even Ford's most "American" car barley hits 80 percent. In fact, America's pride and joy, the Mustang is at a staggering low 55 percent.

    Still, I do like buying American. Notbecause I think it will help the economy, but because of what you get when you drive off the dealership. America makes some of the best cars in the world when it comes to bang for your buck. Sure, we might not be known for our meticulous craftsmanship and quality (that of which we are improving these days), but what does that matter when you're at a red light in your new Camaro SS?

    All in all, while some American cars may in fact be assembled in America, it is important to remember where the parts are actually coming from.

    Again, great work Steven

  2. Cherman, you're quite right about the country of origin for many parts. The fact of the matter is all automakers are becoming increasingly global and are sourcing parts from various parts of the world. If you live in America the Big Three do supply some good bang for your buck, but in other parts of the world that isn't necessarily the case. And you're right about build quality and quality of materials for "American" cars improving: just look at the new Chrysler 300 or Ford Fusion as prime examples.

    Glad you enjoyed my blog and hope you come back for more!