Bob Confer

Bob Confer / Editorial Contributor

One issue that receives a lot of attention throughout the nation is the alleged death of the US automotive industry. Thanks to a misdirected but probably well-intentioned news media and plenty of spin created by the Big Three, the vast majority of Americans believe that the auto manufacturing sector’s future in our country is bleak.

This is not totally correct. If anything, the manufacture of vehicles is doing rather well; it’s just not being done by the usual suspects. While segments of the traditional Big Three (Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors) have faltered in recent years due to an accumulation of poor decisions from decades of sometimes-bad management, another group of manufacturers is succeeding. Toyota, Nissan, Honda and other international manufacturers are experiencing great prosperity with making vehicles on American soil.

The numbers don’t lie. Over the past decade, imports fell from 4.2 million to 3.4 million vehicles per year. This coincided with phenomenal growth in domestic production of “foreign cars”. Collectively, production by these firms on American soil has increased from just under a quarter million vehicles per year to over six million vehicles per year.

There is a reckless assumption believed by many that this success is a not a good thing because they believe all the money is going straight to Asia. They are grossly incorrect, as the monies are flowing right here in the United States. These firms have ever-growing properties showcasing grand investments in new facilities, equipment, and capital improvements, all of which rely on American hands and ingenuity. So, far they have invested $33 billion in 47 US plants and there are more in the works. It doesn’t end there, either, for American companies are providing material, resources and components to the Asian firms to the tune of $52 billion per year. Of greatest importance to the whole equation, thousands of hardworking Americans are building the vehicles, getting paid decent wages and achieving a comfortable way of life. These foreign firms employ almost 100,000 Americans who earn $7 billion in wages and benefits.

Unfortunately, as much as buying a foreign-branded vehicle benefits America there are many consumers who don’t want to hear about it and will continue to buy only from the Fords and GMs of the world. This is somewhat a result of the Big Three’s art of marketing their tradition, but it is more so the result of the subtly ethnocentric effect of Anglo-branding. Buying by name alone, well-meaning patriotic people think they are doing good for America by buying indiscriminately from the American Big Three, dedicating themselves to never purchasing a “foreign car.”

With some vehicles such an approach is warranted. With others, it is completely misguided.

GM has stayed true to its American roots with 33 of approximately 40 models having American content in excess of 50 percent. DaimlerChrysler has waned in its focus, manufacturing less and less in America, but it remains solid for the time being with an American-made majority on half of its models.

In the case of Ford, though, the buyer should beware. The beloved American car has itself become a foreign car. Of nearly 60 car, truck and SUV models in 2006 and 2007, Ford manufactured only 20 of them with US content in excess of 50 percent.

Comparatively, two popular foreigners, Honda and Nissan, both proved to be more American than Ford and just as American as DaimlerChrysler. These companies offered predominantly US-made content on more than half of their 16 models each.

As you can see, supporting American auto manufacturing can make for a difficult buying decision because brands are proving to be nothing more than a name. An “American” car may be a “foreign” car and vice versa. Patriotic consumers need to develop a new mindset, looking at “American” production not by name, but rather by content. If you are focused on buying patriotically with your next car purchase study your choices well: in some cases a manufacturer with an American name may be supporting only a very few American families while a foreign-branded vehicle shows significant importance to our economy and our fellow Americans.

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at bobconfer@juno.com.