Wednesday, September 06, 2006

In a global economy, buying American cars is more important than ever (Sept. 06 Manistee News Advocate)

My wife and I bought a new car recently, and every time we’re in the market for a new car, we have the same discussion. I usually say we should look at all of the cars available and judge them on their pricing and merits, and she says we should only buy American. Part of the reason I look at foreign cars over and over again is because of the prestige and allure they seem to hold -- although I’m not sure why. I think many Americans buy foreign cars for that reason, because of some perceived superiority in design or style.We have owned six cars together by my estimate in the 12 years that we’ve been married, and all of them are or were American cars. Some of them were good cars, others not so great. But isn’t that true of all products? I’m sure there are some good Japanese cars, and some clunkers.I’m a big fan of capitalism. Let the consumer vote for the automobile that he or she likes with their dollars. This will force the car companies to push the envelope, delivering the automobile with the most desirable features and the highest level of performance. If that product happens to be a foreign car, then so be it.Despite this logic, we have yet to buy a foreign car, though. And I don’t think we ever will. When we shop for Volvos and Volkswagens, we feel guilty. Having grown up in the ‘70s and ‘80s in a suburb of Detroit, everyone drove American cars, and almost everyone’s mother or father worked for one of the big three auto-makers. As kids, we figured that only rich people and folks who lived on the east or west coast drove foreign cars. My wife, the lifelong pro-union Democrat, had it driven into her head that she shouldn’t be found dead in a BMW.But are we making this decision with our heads or our hearts? Shouldn’t we buy the product that best fits our needs, our pocketbooks, and our safety? This could describe a foreign car or an American car, depending on our budgets and the type of car we desire. In terms of the merits of foreign vs. American cars, it's not all that clear anymore which is which. Toyotas are built in Kentucky, Hondas in Ohio, and Mercedes-Benzes in Alabama. Chrysler is owned by Germans and General Motors makes cars in Canada and Mexico. Is an automobile assembled in the U.S. with more than 50% of its parts built in another country still an American car?But we’re not really talking about where the cars or their component parts are made. An American car is one that is made by an American company, regardless of where they buy their parts or assemble the vehicles. The world economy is becoming more and more trans-global every day, and it’s only expected that auto companies will seek out the most economical ways to build their products with the least expensive labor and overhead costs.We can’t knock the auto companies for trying to stay in business by minimizing their costs. Sure, it hurts when people lose their jobs, but what do we expect them to do? American car companies cannot remain competitive with foreign car companies and continue to eat the high costs of production here in the U.S. They must out-source or die.Which is why we should continue to buy American cars. We haven’t had a trade surplus in this country since 1975, and the current trade deficit continues to grow as we gobble up foreign imported goods at an alarming rate, hurting domestic industries which manufacture or produce the same goods. The government hasn’t discouraged the trade deficit much because the influx of cheaper goods helps to stem inflation.So what is the answer? How do we buy the least expensive goods while still supporting American businesses, American industry, and American jobs. Unfortunately, that’s a hard nut to crack.When it comes down to it, there are plenty of quality American automobiles to choose from, and many are affordable, safe, and economical to drive. There isn’t any reason to run to the European or Japanese car-makers to find something that we produce right here at home.I agree, we should still use healthy competition to make the big three work harder to get our car buying dollar, but we can force them to compete amongst each other, rather than with foreign car makers, and in the process, support our own economy. With the tough economic times we face in this country, now is the time to buy American, and contribute to a stronger, more self-reliant United States of America. At the same time, we must also challenge American businesses to produce a superior product worthy of our loyalty. Cean Burgeson can be reached at:

No comments: