Car Wars: Are You Driving a Political Statement?

Okay, maybe the personal is political, as we’ve been told since the heyday of Germaine Greer and Abbie Hoffman.

 I refer to a Detroit News expose, or expose-ette, also aired on NPR, that looks at the cars owned by the Obama people who will decide the fate of General Motors and Chrysler.

If the point was to  find out whether the car czars and czarinas have already voted with their wallets against the American-mades, the answer is yes, they have.  From the piece:

 Among the eight members named Friday to the Presidential Task Force on the Auto Industry and the 10 senior policy aides who will assist them in their work, two own American models. Add the Treasury Department’s special adviser to the task force and the total jumps to three.

 Three out of 18? I  can’t really say that surprises me. Most of the upper-middle class/leadership/exec class people I know drive imports. When I told one of these sorta-elites last year that I was about to buy a Ford Escape, she looked at me with pained concern, as if I’d confessed to buying a new polyester suit at Wal-Mart. She didn’t say, “Darling, our crowd does not buy American,” but the thought was there.

 Now I’m not ready to brand one’s choice of car a purely political act. As a buyer I’ve worked both sides of the pond, knowing along with everyone else that the Japanese and Germans were turning out great cars.  I’ve owned a couple of  cheap Fords in the past and a Chrysler (though no GM product), but the best car I ever had was probably an ’85 Mazda 626. (My late father-in-law, who fought the Japanese in the Pacific, always winced when we bought imports; he was not going to subsidize people who once tried to kill him.)

Until last year, my wife and I owned  a  14-year old Toyota Camry that could have chugged on another year or so had not  our image-conscious teenage daughter launched a boycott of the slightly dinged but still trustworthy ride. When she wanted to get a “We’re Not Poor” vanity plate, we knew it was time for a new car.

  So, starting with some small bias toward buying American (if I could get a great deal),  I did all the Consumer Report research and became convinced that at least a few American models have drawn abreast of the imports. I got the Ford for about $8,000 less than a comparable import, and so far, through 10,000 miles, I’ve been satisfied. I’m fairly sure that a Lexus would be a “better” car in some ways, but I’m a pretty light driver and cars, for me, are a utilitarian thing, not the aesthetic and spiritual avatars  they seem to be for many.

My view, to sum up, is this: I’m happy with the American brand I bought, and going forward, as they say, new buyers ought to give domestic brands a long look if we want any kind of home-grown auto industry to survive. But I’m not declaring Car Wars;  in many ways, people who buy imports are making smart decisions. The real shame is that our car makers, thanks to some combination of stupidity and sloth, got outflanked by foreign competitors, and we’re paying the price for it now.



One thought on “Car Wars: Are You Driving a Political Statement?

  1. If only it were as easy as reading the label. According to the “Auto Industry Update: 2006,” (by CSM Worldwide) only 65% of the content of a Ford Mustang comes from the U.S. or Canada. Ford Motor Co. buys the rest of the Mustang’s parts abroad. By contrast, the Sienna, sold by Japan’s Toyota Motor Corp., is assembled in Indiana with 90% local components.

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