By Pam Oakes, Special for USDR
They say you can never go back home…and that phrase is oh-so true when home is Detroit.
A few years ago, I flew back to the Motor City to catch a football game. Unfortunately, I have gotten used to the sights and sounds of a decaying metropolis that was the birth place of the automotive assembly line. This downturn was even more evident by reading the silent face of my San Diego fiancé sitting in the passenger seat, taking in his first glimpse of the city.
“You’re right. No too many foreign cars here,” his voice broke the rumble of the traffic.
That was my opportunity to give him a taste of what Detroit was like decades ago, when it was just the “Big 3″ and product loyalty was commonplace. I told him that it was time for pizza and “counting” Fords. Destination: Dino’s, in Dearborn Heights — in the heart of Ford country.
We ordered our pie and went outside to start our survey.
“Commence counting,” I told him.
It began: 1, 2, 5, 8…
And, that was the first traffic signal stop.
Looking at the parking lot, there were more Fords: 11, 12, 13… Our Hyundai rental was the odd man out of the pack.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ve got the point.”
Yes, product loyalty in a town that once was the “Automobile Capital of the World” is still somewhat alive. But, how much of that automobile is true-blue to the “Made in America” byline?
There’s an ABC News website that tells consumers about their automobile’s American roots. For example, around 85 percent of the Ford Explorer – from door panel to pistons — is American made. On the other hand, only 10 percent of the Ford Transit is the product of the good old USA. By the way, that Ford panel truck is assembled in Turkey.
And, what about those foreign applications that boasts “Made in America?” The Toyota Camry, the Honda Accord? According to the ABC News, 80 percent of their parts are manufactured here. Yet, most of their cousins — Lexus and Infiniti brands — have zero interest in the good ol’ US of A. No components, no assembly in the states.
You think it stops there?
The mass exodus out of the Motor City, America continues. This summer patriots felt a nasty blow to the “Made in America” branding. That rumbling wasn’t thunder, but the Dodge brothers and Walter Chrysler rolling in their graves, as Fiat moved their newer acquisition, Fiat Chrysler Auto (FCA), from the Detroit suburbs to their new headquarters in London – along with the company profits. No longer is the Chrysler-Dodge badge a true, American institution.
Then, there’s General Motors. Didn’t think that I would let them off the hook, did you? That Detroit brick and mortar icon may stand on firm bedrock down by the Windsor Tunnel, but the product has been on shaky ground this year due to a flood of safety recalls. CEO Mary Barra walked into a hornet’s nest when she crossed the threshold of her new office. But, you know, GM couldn’t have chosen a better leader than her to take care of GM business and get them back on the highway. But, it’s going to be a rocky road until the finger pointing subsides.
GM-Barra troubles started this past winter with a slew of GM models with faulty ignition switches on the Chevrolet model Cobalt. Then, it expanded to ignition switches on the Chevy Impala (77 percent of the vehicle made in US), Buick Lacrosse (57 percent of the vehicle made in US) and Lucerne (76 percent of the vehicle made in US), Cadillac DTS (76 percent of the vehicle made in US). Those ignition switches were manufacturered by Japan’s Alps Electric Co. The Asian company sublet the GM ignition switch job to its sister company, China-based Dalian Alps. Alps Electric acknowledges that it supplied GM with the ignition switch, but said it was not contacted by GM before the auto manufacturer filed safety issues with the Feds.
Then, there are the supplemental air restraint issues with other manufacturers ,made by other overseas companies. Honda, Toyota, Ford, Subaru, Mazda, Nissan,
General Motors, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Chrysler recalled vehicles with airbags made by Takata Corporation, of Japan. It’s been reported that the air bag may explode with a higher than designed velocity or the air bag throws shrapnel at the occupants.And, we don’t have time to mention that 75% of Aston Martins (since 2007) are under recall for a counterfeit, plastic part that can fail upon acceleration. Double checks on quality have gone along with the bright lights of a busy Woodward Avenue on a summer evening, trips to Bob-Lo Island and the Detroit Dragway.
So, is there a vehicle out there that is exclusively USA inside and out? Unfortunately, the answer is no. But, if you check out that window sticker, it shows where the different parts to your vehicle were made, assembled. Canada, Mexico, China, Korea are a few of the more popular origins. There are pieces of the world in every make and model out there on the streets. And, with international competition to keep production costs low, sticker prices within consumer range – good or bad — it looks like the American love affair with cars has divorced the town that bent cold steel into shapes that resembled rolling works of art. Nowadays, common-structured car or truck is more about transporting us to the ballpark, school and grocery store.
It’s all about how cheap you can buy it; how cheap you can drive it. The auto world has changed like the scenery of Detroit. In both cases, not for the better.
Pam Oakes is a shop owner, ASE-certified technician, automotive author, automotive speaker, and radio host of “Car Care for the Clueless” and fourth-generation technician originating from the eastside of Detroit.
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And, yes, she still “turns wrenches.”