Opinion: American car culture becoming more Europeanized
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 6, 2013 21:03
It’s not a secret that America has one of the biggest automobile cultures in the world. One of the larger reasons why this is true is because of our unrelenting support for the “Big Three” American automobile manufacturers: Ford, GM and Chrysler. These companies were the first ones to bring cars to the everyday man in the early twentieth century. Yes, other foreign companies have since come along making some better vehicles, but the original American companies continue to represent more with their heritage, tradition and jobs that they bring to this country.
However, what were to happen if one of the largest American vehicle manufacturers were to suddenly become owned by non-Americans?
After Chrysler suffered major financial setbacks in 2008 and 2009, the Italian automobile conglomerate Fiat began to purchase shares in the company. Today, Fiat has a majority stake in Chrysler. Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat, has said that he wants Fiat and Chrysler to be one company, saying they “belong together.”
In essence, one of the big three automobile manufacturers, Chrysler, could become completely Italian. Much would be lost if this happens.
One of the defining characteristics of American cars is that the majority of them are designed and built here in North America. The rising European influence on our American manufacturers and their more international construction is going to cause a loss of our tradition.
The substance behind the emotion of American cars is the people who work behind the scenes – specifically smaller firms and factory workers. Peter Valdes-Dapena wrote an article for CNN Money about Americans buying American cars. He interviewed Thomas Klier, an economist for the Federal Reserve, who said, “When it comes to longer term benefits, a lot of activity happens in the country in which the company’s headquarters is domiciled.” Moreover, Valdes-Dapena writes, “buying a Ford or General Motors car is still better for the American economy and for American workers, even if the particular vehicle you’re buying was built in Mexico, Canada or Korea. That’s because American car companies make more cars and employ more workers in the United States than do automakers based in other countries.”
The sources of materials and parts play a key role as well. American companies tend to use materials and parts that were made in the United States, whereas international companies are more accustomed to sourcing international materials and parts.
In essence, the progression towards foreign-designed vehicles will cause a decline in the American industrial economy.
We take pride in our automobile industry here. This is evident in the fact that American car companies have the most loyal customers in the market. People who buy American cars are less likely to decide that their next car will be from Japan, South Korea or Germany.
Many of our nation’s citizens genuinely care about the other American-based companies who supply parts to the larger manufacturers and the American workers who build the final product.
Our pride and loyalty run deep within our country. We are forever looking for products that are “made in America,” and rightly so. Obviously, the economy is deep into recovery mode and is in the process of returning to normal. But, the last thing we need is a loss of American automotive jobs, not because of a decrease in the market, but because of the jobs being shipped over seas.
What troubles me is that there is a distinct possibility that if a European conglomerate owns Chrysler, many American jobs will be lost. We will lose factory jobs and managerial positions, and there is an even greater risk that the companies that work under the larger companies will suffer. These include, but certainly are not limited to, the repair shops and garages, aftermarket parts dealers and the makers of the original parts.
Granted, the decisions that Marchionne will make are sure to be the best ones for Fiat and Chrysler. However, there is genuine concern that if Chrysler becomes completely Italian, the little guys – the factory workers and the small companies that work behind the scenes to support the automobile industry – will suffer.
I hope that if Fiat does eventually buy out Chrysler, they will not fail to account for the people beneath the surface of the automotive world.