Anybody who was alive in the ’80s probably remembers political advertising featuring Honda after Honda being unloaded on a California dock. That was back when Japan was going to “buy” America and we were all scared of their economy. Boy, things have really changed, huh?
More than you might think, actually. There are quite a lot of Japanese cars on Consumer Reports’ just-released list of the best cars of 2012, and it might surprise you just how few of them are actually made in Japan.
- Toyota Camry Hybrid: The top of the family car selection, costing $29,000, has got to be from Japan, right? Wrong. The Toyota Camry Hybrid actually comes from the rolling hills and sweet bluegrass of none other than the state of Kentucky.
- Ford Mustang: This modern version of an American classic is made in the same place they turn out Mazda 6 sports cars…Flat Rock, Michigan.
- Toyota RAV4: This Japanese car, and topper of the list of small SUVs, is indeed, foreign made. Specifically, it’s made in Canada.
- Hyundai Sonata: The car that topped the Affordable Family Car category in Consumer Reports is the pride and joy of Alabama.
- Toyota Sienna: This popular van, which tops the safety rankings as well as being Consumer Reports’ best minivan, is the product of a plant in Princeton, Indiana, which also makes the Toyota Highlander, another top pick for Consumer Reports. Auto insurance companies just love this vehicle.
- Infiniti G: This luxury sedan, part of the Nissan brand, is all-American: in fact, American factories make up the majority of Infiniti’s production line.
- Toyota Prius: Finally, a Japanese car actually built in Japan. Then again, not for long: when the Prius is revised in a few years, Toyota plans to move construction to Mississippi.
- Subaru Impreza: Not just the Impreza, but almost every other Subaru for sale in the United States, is built on U.S. soil.
- Chevrolet Avalanche: This rough, tough truck, a Consumer Reports favorite for several years, is right from North America. Mexico, to be specific. The industrial city of Silao makes several brands of Chevy and GMC pickups, as well as the Cadillac Escalade.
So, what gives? Why are almost all the Japanese (and Korean, since Hyundai made the list) cars made in the United States, while one American car is made in Mexico? The short answer is: fuel and labor.
The simple fact of the matter is that you can build a car overseas, obviously: all of these companies do just that. But back in the ’80s, Japanese labor was cheaper than American labor, and ship fuel was cheap. As the decade progressed, though, Japanese labor got more expensive, especially as the demographics of the country shifted towards the elderly. And we don’t need to tell you, powering a ship on oil hasn’t gotten cheaper since the 1980s.
Plus, Americans buy a lot of cars…way more than most other countries. The economics became pretty clear for these companies, pretty quickly: build American, sell American. Notice that almost all of these plants are located well away from Motor City; they’re well-paying jobs in areas that could use them.
In short, economics have handed out a heavy dose of irony; the badge might be overseas, but the odds are pretty good that if you’re driving a well-made, long-lasting car, it’s American made.