When Is A Vehicle Really American?

Ladies and gentlemen, the end of the week is here again: it’s Friday, a magical, happy day, defined by Wikipedia as “the day after Thursday which precedes Saturday.” And that means the work week is over and now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy a new Letter to Doug.

For those of you who don’t know it, Letters to Doug is a “wonderful column” (–Doug DeMuro, 2015) that captures the spirit of Jalopnik in the sense that you all send me a bunch of letters and I reply to the one that offers the most potential for a humorous, largely uninformed answer. If you’d like to be a part of it all, write to me at Letters2Doug@gmail.com, or Tweet me at @DougDeMuro.

Now, on to today’s letter, which comes to us from a man named Jim. Although Jim did not provide his location, his liberal use of curse words leads me to believe it’s somewhere in New Jersey. Here’s Jim’s letter:

Dear Doug,

When I bought a New Nissan Frontier in 2011 a buddy of mine broke my balls for buying a “foreign” car. I explained to him that the truck was made in Smyrna TN (Still a part of America…Yes?) I went on to say that an American woke up got his American lunch ready, stepped into work at a place that was in America, cashed his paycheck and spent it in America.

So my buddy being the good American that he is went and bought this huge ass Hemi powered Ram 4dr 1500 quadcab truck. I told him that he too was now a foreign car owner as Ram is a part of Chrysler which is Fiat which is Italian.

He then went on to tell me that with his truck the money spent to buy it “Stays here” (in America). So then I opened the door of his truck, it turns out that his truck was made in Mexico. Now as I recall Mexico is NOT in America. Right? So I started busting his balls about having even more of a foreign car than me. Again he said that when he bought his truck the money was staying here. So I asked him how could that be, his truck which was purchased from a company from Italy and built in Mexico does that make the money stay here? I went on to say that my Nissan was made in America by an American who spent his paycheck here in America. Making my truck more American. His answer to that was, wait for it “Fuck you, Fuck you just Fuck you”

I’m a simple man, with a simple mind and simple needs. I did not go to college and there is much that I do not understand. However what am I missing here? How is his truck more American than mine? How did the money he spent on his truck stay here in America when the parent company and the country that it was assembled aren’t American.



P.S. Thanks for all you write; you keep me sane at work


There are several interesting aspects of this letter, but perhaps the most interesting is the fact that Jim recently purchased a brand-new Frontier. While I respect the Frontier, and I like the Frontier, and my uncle has a Frontier, I have to say that the Frontier is an odd decision in that its design precedes the arrival of human beings on this planet. And I am not kidding: many of today’s top archaeologists now believe that brontosaurus drove a Frontier SE King Cab.

But anyway, back to Jim’s question. I love Jim’s question because nothing pissed me off more when I worked at Porsche than when people would tell me they would never buy a “foreign car.” I always pressed them on this issue, and the reason they gave was always something like: “Because the money goes to a different country.”

Well, now, wait a minute, I would say. I’m an American human being in the sense that a) I was born somewhere in the center of this country and b) I religiously followed the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa thing, until it turned out, much later, that both of them were doing more drugs than Lindsay Lohan.

So when you buy a “foreign” Porsche, I would tell people, the money doesn’t go back to some crazy German guy who drives around in a diesel hatchback and always makes sure his umbrella is handy. It goes right here! And then I would point to my American chest with my American thumb, and then I would launch into this whole American explanation about how I purchase a wide variety of American goods, such as gasoline from Indian people.

Of course, with Porsche, this argument was dubious. There’s no factory in America. There’s no production. There’s no testing, or research and development. The most we would do, at Porsche, is tell our German overlords in this tiny little voice that the door lock switch was a little out of place, and it might hurt us in J.D. Power ratings, and maybe we should change it, and they would say: “SILENCE! YOU WILL BE DESTROYED!”

Now, that argument is a little more tenable with the Frontier. The American version is built in America, by Americans, and it’s sold through American dealers; Nissan has a huge operation in America, and a lot of the truck’s existence is owed to its success in America. So is the Frontier automatically American?

Hell no! The damn thing is still Japanese, and it was designed for use in dozens of markets around the world, which allowed Nissan to split up development costs. This isn’t some America-only vehicle. Hell, they build a version in Thailand and they sell it in Europe as the Nissan Navarra. And remember when they licensed it to Suzuki? If “Suzuki” isn’t a Japanese name, than I don’t know what is. (“Yamamoto” is.)

And this brings us to the Ram. Here’s a truck that’s designed and sold in America, but built in Mexico by an American company with an Italian parent. How do you even classify this vehicle? There are so many countries involved here that it looks like Hillary Clinton’s diplomatic passport.

So which vehicle is more American? The answer is: NONE OF THEM! Maybe this argument made sense back in 1904, when Henry Ford was building the Model T with a wide range of Aryan workers and whatever materials he could find laying around the Dearborn area. But in 2015, we live in a globalized world, where a tsunami in Japan stops infotainment screen production for American-based Ford; where an exploding airbag in China prompts German-based BMW to recall a sports car made in South Carolina. Hell, my current daily driver is a British SUV, with an American engine and an Indian parent company, built by German engineers. What the hell sense does that make?

And in this globalized world, the simple truth is this: no matter what car you buy, it isn’t American. Every car has some semblance of foreign parts, and some portion of every dollar you spend will find its way overseas. But if this troubles you, you can take comfort in these two highly important reassurances: number one, the same is true in reverse when people overseas buy goods. And number two: I’ll be back next Friday with another letter to Doug.

@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn’t work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.


Its american if the profits are going to an american company. Ford is an american company. Chevy is an american company. If your toyota was built in american by an american worker, i dont care if he spends his paycheck here, where are the PROFITS going? back to japan.