As recently as 1986 when I bought my first Toyota there was a stigma in America buying foreign made vehicles. “Made in America” was once a source of pride, and many Americans considered it blasphemy to buy vehicles not manufactured by GM, Ford, and Chrysler. I opted for a Toyota because of my horrific experiences with a Chevy Citation X-11, a death trap of a car whose rear wheels were prone to locking when the brakes were applied suddenly or heavily, causing the vehicle to swerve.
Auto writers believing GM CEO Mary Barra’s electric vehicle braggadocio about selling more electric vehicles than Elon Musk in a few years would be wise to study the media hype GM received for the Citation whose supposedly innovative front wheel drive the automaker aggressively promoted as a new generation of cars. GM played the automotive trades for suckers, giving them specially modified versions of the car, in which the serious torque steer had been engineered out.
Given that Ford just paid $92 million to settle allegations that it lied for years about some of its advertising claims and Stellantis’ U.S. division recently settling criminal charges for its attempts to evade diesel emission standards, I’ve come to appreciate that lying and deception are time-honored U.S. automotive industry practices.
GM’s insistence and success fighting regulatory pressure to recall the Citation made clear that it was no more concerned with the safety of Americans than the company’s foreign rivals. In fact, the evidence was already compelling the reverse was true. Over the next few decades more Americans adopted my view and understandably Toyota has overtaken GM and Ford as the number one selling automotive brand in America.
Highest ranked “American-made” vehicles
What most Americans don’t appreciate is that despite being headquartered in the Detroit area, GM and Ford have become unabashedly unpatriotic with regards to the manufacturing of their vehicles. The lack of sentimentalism has allowed them to rack up huge profits building gas guzzling pickup trucks and SUVs that are harming the U.S. environment but aren’t contributing to the American economy to the degree Americans mistakenly believe.
Cars.com this week released its annual survey of cars and trucks it deems the most “American made.” The trade publication determines American-made not only based where vehicles are assembled, but also factors in parts content, engine origins, transmission origins, and U.S. manufacturing workforce.
GM, a company bailed out by U.S. taxpayers in 2008, has no vehicles making the top 10 American-made list. Ford has one, the No. 3 ranked Lincoln Corsair, one of Consumer Reports’ lowest rated SUVs. The Jeep Cherokee is ranked 7th.
Tesla vehicles claim the first, second, 5th and 6th slots, while Honda vehicles garnered the 4th, 8th, 9th, and 10th spots.
Tesla is based in Austin, so there’s a reasonable expectation the company would show some American loyalty. But Honda is based in Minato City, Tokyo, and yet it’s manufacturing more vehicles ranked among the top 10 “American made” list than GM, Ford, and the former Chrysler brands combined.
Honda’s Ridgeline was the only pickup truck to make the top 10 American-made list. Pickup trucks are where GM and Ford make most of their money, and some of their trucks are so decidedly un-American that any MAGA Trump supporter who owns and leases them is either blissfully ignorant or a shameless hypocrite.
GM’s Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1550 luxury pickup trucks, the bread and butter of GM’s profits, are ranked 93 and 94 – the only more un-American vehicle is the Hyundai Electric which ranks dead last at 95.
Hecho en Mexico
The Silverado and Sierra are manufactured in the U.S. and Mexico, but Americans can’t specify if they want the American-made version. Adding insult to injury, a random spot check of new Silverado and Sierra trucks available for sale online in the Metro Detroit area revealed that most of them were assembled in Mexico.
GM last year announced a $1 billion investment to build electric vehicles in Mexico, where the company until recently was paying its workers around $3 an hour. GM CEO Mary Barra in 2021 was awarded $29 million in compensation while Ford CEO Jim Farley received $23 million.
Ford’s F-150, which reporter Kristin Shaw of The Drive astutely noted is considered as American as apple pie, ranks 21 on the American-made list. The Ram 1500, another uniquely American pickup despite its foreign Stellantis ownership, ranks 45th.
The top ranked “American made” pickup is the GMC Canyon, which ranks at No. 12.
China puts U.S. to shame
If electric vehicles are the future, the U.S. is frighteningly behind China.
The communist country has already birthed a seemingly healthy domestic industry selling electric vehicles at all price points, not just luxury vehicles as is mostly the case in the U.S. Nine of the top 10 selling electric vehicles in China are made domestically with domestic parts. Tesla is a top seller in China but that’s because it has agreed to sell only Tesla vehicles made in that country using only Chinese-made parts. Tesla also has agreed to help the communist government gain expertise in EV engineering and manufacturing.
Unlike their counterparts in the U.S., China’s regulators have a zero tolerance for shoddy manufacturing and poor customer service, as Elon Musk learned the hard way. Tesla last year was forced to issue a public apology and create a customer-satisfaction unit after a high-level Communist Party regulatory body accused the company of arrogance and endangering Chinese consumers by selling defective products. Whereas Musk has shown nothing but disdain for America’s political leadership, he behaves as a well-trained puppy in his business dealings with his Chinese masters.
EV lack of transparency
GM and Ford have garnered accolades for introducing electric pickup trucks but two ambitious reporters at The Drive did a detailed analysis and warned that they are possibly not as environmentally friendly as the automakers’ claim.
Here are the conclusionary findings of The Drive’s investigation:
“We’ve been able to use what little data we have to better understand the effects of electrification, (but) the lack of information from most OEM (original equipment manufacturers) we contacted demonstrates the auto industry has a transparency problem we’d do well to start taking seriously.
“Carmakers won’t share the true environmental impacts of their EVs unless it hurts them not to. If we’re going to get serious about sustainability, that has to be our starting point. That, and not pretending an electric Hummer can ever be a stand-in for a Civic.”
GM and Ford having a data transparency problem – why would anyone be inclined to believe that allegation?
A Shoutout to Phoebe Wall Howard
Phoebe Wall Howard, a Detroit Free Press auto writer and long an unabashed cheerleader of Ford CEO Jim Farley, did an about face today and published a takedown of the company the likes one rarely sees from the local Motor City media.
Wall Howard deftly lays bare what Ford has become: A manufacturer of shoddy vehicles whose constant need for recalls has put the automaker at a great competitive disadvantage. This quote from Jerry Decker, a financial analyst from Queens who drives a 2019 F-150, says it all:
“I suspect a large part of the problem is that (Ford) bought out or forced out older more experienced engineers for young ones. And now the young ones are making the same mistakes the older ones did when they were young…How in the hell can they not figure out why their $100,000 SUVs keep burning up? Please ask Ford management how they plan to stop the recalls and if they plan to in some way get their more experienced engineers involved?”
Many of the young engineers Decker refers to are working in India, where Ford has outsourced more than 11,000 jobs and plans to ship out more. The firing of experienced engineers has also been costly; at least four age discrimination settlements are public knowledge.
Farley has split Ford into three businesses, and he’s bet the company on becoming a major player in electric vehicle sales. The problem is that electric vehicles are more complex, so Ford’s best engineers will focus on that business segment. But the company needs to sell oodles of its gas guzzling and environmentally hazardous pickup trucks to finance its electric vehicle R&D. As consumers increasingly associate Ford with problem-plagued vehicles, they will less likely want to drive Ford’s EV models.
Underscoring just how complex electric vehicle engineering is, Toyota recalled its first mass produced EV less than two months after its launch. Toyota became the number one selling brand in America because of its reputation for quality and reliability.
If Toyota can’t do electric vehicles right from the get-go, it’s a giant leap of faith to think Ford or GM can.