All About Cars and Buying American

This is a response to this powerline post.

I just read the article on cars via powerline and I felt compelled to
comment as a shadetree mechanic.

Both GM and Ford are American companies only so far as management is
concerned. If you buy a Ford, it’s built in South America with South
American wrenches. Check the sticker on the driver side door for the
assembly. GM has roughly the same problem, but since they have a
partnership with Toyota (sold under the GEO brand), sometimes their
cars are built in Kentucky and sometimes they are built in Mexico.
Toyotas are sometimes built in Kentucky and sometimes built in Japan.
If you’re really interested in Buying American, buy either Chevy or
Toyota – but only after checking the door sticker.

Ford’s engines are almost always built in Brazil, so you are never
truly buying American there, Chevies are built sometimes in Ohio,
sometimes in Kentucky, and sometimes in Japan. All three plants send
the parts either to Mexico or Kentucky to be assembled into cars.
Finally Toyota buys their engines either from Yamaha (which is
actually Fuji Heavy Industries) or builds them in Japan. These go to
Kentucky or stay in Japan. There’s no real “buying American” anymore,
not since the 80s. Having built several cars by hand, I can safely say
that out of the two “American brands” and the “foreign brand”, the
“foreign brand” has superior engineering by far. I was briefly in love
with the Lincolns, and owned a Mark VII. Despite the best efforts of
me and the mustang crowd, keeping the 302HO running was a chore,
especially for a luxury car which served as my daily driver. The
engineering just sucked, no thought went into assembly, and minor
things which should be user serviceable were built as a unit and then
bolted to the engine with no thought to service. (The alternator on
the 302HO is not only notoriously unreliable, but the bolt which holds
it to the bracket is put facing the engine block – which means you
can’t service it without pulling the entire accessory bracket).

Turn that around and consider the “foreign brand”, made in Kentucky. I
built two 1992 MR2s as project cars. I bought into the first one, then
when it was involved in a hit and run, I bought back the wreck and did
an engine swap into the second one. The engineering is night and day
comparing domestic and foreign cars. The MR2, the midengine
suicide-sled from the 1990s, has more in common with the Toyota Camry
(and Celica) than any two ford vehicles or chevy vehicles would. Just
about everything, including the 5SFE, will swap between those cars.
This is why America’s industry, unfortunately, sucks. With talent like
that overseas, I’ve sworn off buying domestics. Even the turbo MR2
(3SGTE) engine, something you would assume would end up only on
sportscars, is still used almost 20 years later today in Toyota’s
“crossover” vehicles. Plus, frankly, it saves you money. While Pepboys
is going to look at you funny when you tell them you want to buy Camry
brake pads for your MR2, the difference is nothing on the materials
and about $40 off the price.

Now, all is not done for the American auto industry. The ECOTEC is
built a whole lot like the 5SFE which Toyota used as it’s mainstay and
incorporates a lot of the same concepts (different heads all go on the
same shortblock to make different engines). Unfortunately it’s made by
“GM Daewoo”, so it’s South Korean. But, if GM holds onto the ECOTEC
design (simply called Series 0, Series 1, and Series 2 along with the
CDFR diesel ECOTEC) for another 20 years or so, they stand to make a
comeback. The chassis standardization trend is also a good thing for
GM – the Pontiac Solstice, the Saturn Sky (and Redline), and the Opel
Speedster all use the same frame and engines with just a change of
window dressing. Unlike Toyota, however, GM exclusively uses the
ECOTEC “system” in various configurations to get varying levels of
sportyness into the cars.

That’s really the long and short of the problem with the American auto
industry’s excesses. Everything Ford and Chevy built until recently
has been unique to the car, and everything Toyota built has been made
to be assembled like LEGOs.

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One thought on “All About Cars and Buying American

  1. *phew* when I first started reading this post, I thought you were going to be defending “American built”. But you brought up an interesting point, that I wish more of the “be American, buy American” crowd would see. In 2008, nothing you can buy is truly American (or for that matter, Chinese, or European, or Indian) any more. Manufacturers (or service providers) go where they can get the best talent at the lowest price and where the climate (government, economic, etc) is most suitable. It really irks me when people call companies that just happened to be founded in the US, American companies (Google, Dell, Apple, etc. are just a few examples). The intellectual capital comes from a several places, silicon valley being one of them. The hardware, software, or service is built and provided from around the world. Heck, more often than not, the founders and top talent in any of these companies are not American either.

    Not sure where I’m going with this…just rambling.

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