Uncle Sam wants YOU to “Buy American.” So does Generation Y’s beloved President Obama. While nation of origin has historically divided the automotive landscape, the current globalized industry blurs the distinction between what is a foreign and domestic vehicle. Manufacturers are enormous multinational companies which engineer, design, manage, build, and sell vehicles across vast markets. Here in the patriotic, rural Deep South it’s obvious that American-ness can be a beneficial characteristic when purchasing a car. But do the Big 2.5 US manufacturers have an innate advantage in selling to my peers?
Hold on a minute, we’re doing 80 in a 55. First, we have to answer the question: What exactly is an “American car?” Surely the Nissan Cube is Japanese and the Jeep Liberty is American. The former is a Japanese brand built with Japanese components in Japan; the latter is an American brand built with mostly American components in the USA. Easy right?
What about Ford’s Fusion? It was engineered alongside the Mazda6 in Japan, assembled with 75%+ imported components in Hermosillo, Mexico, and sold by an American brand. That’s one confusing mutt, but what does my cohort think?
There are two highly visible factors to an Echo Boomer – brand origin and assembly locale. To keep things simple, I polled 30 Echo Boomers on situations of contrasting brand and assembly locations. Respondents determined whether or not a Mexican-assembled Chevrolet and an Ohio-built Honda were “American.” Every respondent had opposite viewpoints on the two situations, with the exception of one person who deemed them both foreign.
General Motors engineers across continents, produces vehicles in 34 countries, and sells in 140 countries. Few Millenials are savvy enough to know that a Pontiac G8 roars to life with a “G’day mate,” let alone comprehend how global car companies truly are. Personally, I think both situations are partially American. On a range from Speedy Gonzales to John Wayne, the Chevy is Bruce Springsteen—born in the USA, but also born to run. The Honda is more Hideki Matsui—it may be a Yankee now, but it still speaks Japanese.
Now that we’ve determined brand is the primary driver of the vague notion of nationality, to what extent does it matter? Sorry Chevy, not much. I’m with the 80% of my interviewees said they couldn’t care less about nationality. Of the other 20%, 5 said American-ness would be a slight marginal benefit, and 1 Eurocentric said he’d never buy an American car.
Generation Y largely doesn’t enter the “foreign vs. domestic” war typically waged by ultra-conservative patriots, older generations, and Motor Trend. We do stereotype, like in the notion that Japanese brands have superior reliability. But the difference is that Echo Boomers love and differentiate brand identities. The recent recall fiasco has caused some of my peers to think twice about Toyota, but it hinders no Echo Boomer from considering Japanese cars in general.