Volkswagen Jetta

We all have our reasons for buying one product over another. You might buy a particular pasta sauce, because you prefer the taste of Brand A over Brand B. That makes perfect sense. When choosing a new car to buy, factors that come into play may include cargo space, safety features, horsepower and fuel economy. That also makes perfect sense, but are you equally swayed based on where your car is made?

This was a question that was brought up by friend and former client Gary Jones. In my mind, this question really breaks into two completely separate parts.

Two Entirely Different Thoughts

First, you will have certain pre-conceived notions about particular brands. Rightly or wrongly, Toyota is seen as a company that produces reliable vehicles. Volvo is known as a leader in safety. Given this, you may have certain brand preferences, automatically eliminating models from a certain automaker just because it is a particular brand, even if that car ticks all of your other boxes.

Second, you may feel motivated to support your local economy and “buy local,” as it were. Living in North America, you might feel like you want to support the Big Three, because you want to support the auto industry in this country. This consideration is entirely separate from the first.

The Rise of the Multinational Corporation

Just as there is a certain illusion of choice when it comes to many of the products that we buy, there is a similar kind of misconception when it comes to the automobile industry.

For example, most people assume that Volkswagen is German, but if you buy a Golf or Jetta in North America, there’s a good chance that it was made in Mexico. Similarly, many people view Toyota as a “Japanese” company, but the Corolla and Matrix are made in Cambridge, Ontario. There are also plants in Kentucky, Texas, Indiana and Alabama. What about the “Korean” Hyundai Elantra and Hyundai Sonata? Oh, those are made in Montgomery, Alabama.

Other “foreign” brands that have car assembly plants in the United States include Honda, Subaru and BMW. Over in Alliston, Ontario, Honda builds the Civic and CR-V. This isn’t to say that all “import” cars aren’t actually imported. The Honda Fit still comes from Japan, as far as I know. However, the concept of a company only building in its home country is far from the truth today.

Does It Matter?

Some people will say that Japanese and German cars are better, safer and more reliable than their domestic counterparts. The thing is that this perception might be based on the engineering, which likely still happens mostly back at home base, but it could also be related to where the car is actually built. Is your Ontario-built Honda CRV any “better” than your similarly Ontario-built Ford Edge? Some of that CRV purchase money surely funnels back to Japan, but you are still supporting Canadian manufacturing jobs when you buy one too.

I will admit that I still have my biases. Based on the reputation of the Pony from over 20 years ago, I’m still not completely sold on Hyundai, even if these “Korean” cars are winning all sorts of awards these days and Stephen Fung seems perfectly happy with his Kia. I have a similar pre-conceived notion about the reliability of certain domestics, even though I know that opinion isn’t exactly all that warranted when Japanese cars can have just as many problems and recalls.

What about you? Does the home country or the country of manufacture mean anything to you when you’re deciding on a vehicle? Why or why not?