The “I Only Buy American!” Myth

The automotive industry is a now a global one.

Gone are the days when your American car supported only a horde of American workers spread out across rail lines all terminating in the factories of Michigan and  the upper Midwest and nothing that went into your American car was produced overseas. Parts for your American car are made all over the world and parts of a foreign car can be made all over the US!

Buick sells and builds cars in China and builds some in Germany, too. General Motors, perhaps one the most American of brands in popular culture, has imported Australian-built Holdens from Australia and sold them here as Chevys and Pontiacs. Chevy sells a Korean-built Daewoo Matiz here in the US as a Chevy Spark. Ford used to build the Crown Vic, the iconic cop car that we’re all conditioned to hit the brake pedal for, in Canada. The latest version of the Ford Escape is a Ford-Europe Kuga, with small changes needed for the US market. (Safety regulations are slightly different, as are rules about where brakes lights can be and so on.) 

Acura, Honda, and Toyota all build some of their best American sellers here in the US.

Chrysler is partially owned by Fiat, an Italian company who also owns Maserati and Alfa Romeo, among others. Mercedes builds cars in Alabama for the American market and BMW builds a few of their cars in South Carolina. Volkswagen, part of the Volkswagen-Audi Group, who also owns Lamborghini and Bugatti, builds the American-market version of Jetta in Mexico. (Which is a different Jetta than the Jetta sold in Germany.)

As you can see, while you’re supporting an American car company if you buy an “American” car brand, you’re also very likely supporting overseas workers, both in final assembly (like of the Buick Regal X or the Buick Envision) and in foreign suppliers (even back in the dark 1990s, my Dodge Grand Caravan, built at the St Louis Assembly plant, had a Mitsubishi distributor, because the engines were sourced from Mitsubishi).

And if you feel you must avoid buying that Subaru Outback or that Mercedes C300 because they are not American, well, the over 4600 people employed in central Indiana bolting together Subarus and the 3700 or so employed in Alabama at Mercedes Benz- US International wish you’d reconsider, as do all the Americans building Hondas, Toyotas, and BMWs here in the US!

Certainly, “buying American” will offer the most benefit to your own country’s economy, but rest assured: if a non-American car is the right fit for your family, you’re still making a difference!  (But remember, that all-American Jeep you want? It’s… well, it’s complicated.)

Automakers are global companies, with global reach, and global effect on the world’s economies. At this point, in 2018, you’d be hard pressed to find a car sold in the US which is causing direct harm to the American manufacturing, supplier, or raw materials markets, even if the car itself isn’t “American.” At the very least, you’re supporting a local, very likely family-owned, business! 

To sum up, I encourage you to keep an open mind while you shop for your next car! What was true even a few years ago has probably changed. There are many “automotive maxims” floating around in popular culture that are just plain out of date or wrong. Not all American cars are the best. (The Chrysler 200 made Consumer Reports Worst Cars list.) Or the worst. (The Chevy Impala is a CR top pick!) Not all non-American cars are “hard to work on” and gone are the days when your little Japanese import required metric tools, which your local grease monkey didn’t have. (Nowadays, your American car requires metric tools, too!)

To aid in your shopping (and maybe blow your mind a little, if this is an issue you care about a lot) here’s a link to the most American Made cars from last year. Spoiler: #2 is a Honda!

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