Buying American: What It Means In 2018

Hot Dogs And Apple Pie

Those who are around long enough to remember the world a generation ago tend to long for the simplicity of days gone by. Things were easy, a world of black and white choices with no gray area. Clear lines in the sand of American morality. Groceries were carried for old ladies. Neighbors didn’t lock their doors. And when it came to our car purchases, either you buy something made in the US of A, or…

Who are we kidding? There’s really was no “or” without words like commie, un-American, and undeserving of the freedoms afforded by your forefathers being tossed around.

Buying American was really quite simple. Drink American Budweiser, brewed in the nation’s heartland. Eat American hot dogs at the baseball game, America’s pastime. And when it comes to what you drive, easy. Buy something from Detroit’s big three, and don’t dare question its performance or durability. Our purchases reflected our patriotism, with zero room for interpretation. All very cut and dry.

A simpler time, for certain.

A Change Toward Globalization

But hey pops, it’s 2018 now. Today, Budweiser’s ownership is some European guy who wouldn’t recognize the St. Louis Arch if it fell on him. Baseball is now a global game, whose stateside popularity wanes with each passing season (and those hot dogs are LOADED with nitrates!). Today more than ever, “buying American” when it comes to the automobile is a far more nuanced distinction than simply knowing the national origin of the company that produces it. Is Toyota an American car now? Is a car American if it has an American design? Or if it is merely assembled here? How about aftermarket products? Are builds with foreign parts in American shops an American achievement?

It’s enough to make any patriotic car owner wistful for a bygone era. But the reality is that in an economy that grows more globally connected by the day, American companies are still behind the bulk of what’s going on with our automobiles, even if it isn’t always so cut and dry. Still, we may have to shift our expectations about what “buying American” means in today’s market.

The Fact of the Matter

First, the hard truth is important. There isn’t a single mass-production vehicle from any major automaker that is 100 percent “Made In America”. Materials, labor, and design are global endeavors now—all with the aim of keeping production costs low. Cars assembled in the USA use American labor to put together foreign materials. Buying American cars, as we once knew it, is now simply a marketing tactic, designed to appeal to our long history of automotive ethnocentrism.

Exactly How “American” Is Your Car?

But some cars are “more” American than others, in very quantifiable ways. And the ways we measure a car’s domesticity has grown in recent decades. The American Automotive Labeling Act (AALA) of 1994 mandated that automakers provide information on the origin of car parts. This was a great start, improved upon by The Kogod Made In America Auto Index. This ranks major automobiles by their percentage of domestic content, from 1 to 100. And while not every ranking on Kogod’s list comes as a shock (the F-150 and the Chevy Corvette come in at the top of the list), some names that are not always billed as American-made are actually majorly stateside products (several Honda and Toyota models are nearly 80% American.)

American-Built Foreign Cars?

And what about the aftermarket? Supporting your locally-owned build shop almost always means you’re patronizing an American business with American employees. But with the modern industry exploding with options, you can find quality parts for your vehicle from virtually every corner of the globe. Here at home, there are too many quality brands to even count. But cheaper, competent options from places like China are able to bring performance to people who can’t always afford the domestic version. And if you install Chinese parts here at home, that still generates labor revenue for the American doing the assembly.

At the moment, Tesla is the only automobile that can claim to be 100% American, from R&D to parts to assembly. The ONLY one. Otherwise, no matter what brand you are loyal to, globalization has already become a part of the reality. The only legitimate question is: To what extent? There are now pretty effective ways to quantify that, but to be an informed consumer, ‘buying American’ requires compromise. And a hefty amount of research.

From Many, One

We are a melting pot, ethnically and culturally. Our population is a direct result of global outsourcing, and our strength-through-diversity is responsible for creating the most unique, successful, improbably dazzling nation-state in the entire history of humanity. With parts from here and there, a hodgepodge of backgrounds and skill sets, we have blown breath into something entirely unique, and authentically American. A singular, prodigious child, born of infinite mothers. E Pluribus Unum. The sooner we embrace this process for our beloved vehicles, the better.

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