Mom, Apple Pie and...Toyota?
Ford Says It's Patriotic to Buy
A Mustang, but Sienna Is Made
In Indiana With More U.S. Parts
By JATHON SAPSFORD and NORIHIKO SHIROUZU
May 11, 2006; Page B1
Few sports cars have captured the nation's imagination like the sleek Ford
Mustang, a 21st-century reincarnation of an American classic. The Toyota
Sienna minivan, by contrast, speaks to the utilitarian aesthetics of Japan:
refined interiors, arm rests and lots and lots of cup holders.
Yet, by a crucial measure, the Sienna is far more American than the Mustang.
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that were
publicized in "Auto Industry Update: 2006," a presentation by Farmington
Hills, Mich., research company CSM Worldwide, show only 65% of the content
of a Ford Mustang comes from the U.S. or Canada. Ford Motor Co. buys the
rest of the Mustang's parts abroad. By contrast, the Sienna, sold by Japan's
Toyota Motor Corp., is assembled in Indiana with 90% local components.
There's more than a little irony in this, considering Ford has launched a
campaign to regain its footing with an appeal to patriotism (catchphrase:
"Red, White & Bold"). "Americans really do want to buy American brands,"
asserted Ford Executive Vice President Mark Fields in a recent speech. "We
will compete vigorously to be America's car company."
As the Mustang shows, though, it's no longer easy to define what is
American. For 20 years now, the dynamic car makers of Asia -- led by Toyota,
Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. -- have been pouring money into North
America, investing in plants, suppliers and dealerships as well as design,
testing and research centers. Their factories used to be derided as
"transplants," foreign-owned plants just knocking together imported parts.
Today, the Asian car makers are a fully functioning industry, big and
powerful enough to challenge Detroit's claim to the heart of U.S. car
The result is a brewing public-relations war, with both sides wrapping
themselves in the Stars and Stripes. Toyota, for example has been running
commercials touting its contribution to the areas of the U.S. economy where
it has built factories.
Next year, the staid Toyota Camry will undergo the ultimate rite of passage
by entering the most prestigious circuits of the National Association of
Stock Car Racing. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said his company's vast
network of dealerships saw the Nascar link as a crucial marketing tactic to
raise Toyota's profile in the U.S. heartland. "Our dealers told us it was
really important to do this," he says.
On Thursday, the Level Field Institute, a grass-roots organization founded
by U.S. Big Three retirees, is scheduled to hold a news conference in
Washington. Among the points the group is expected to make is its belief
that comparing relative North American component content is an ineffective
way to determine who is "more American" among auto makers. A better way,
says Jim Doyle who heads Level Field, is to look at the number of jobs --
from research and development to manufacturing to retailing -- each auto
maker creates per car sold in the U.S.
Mr. Doyle says the institute's study shows that Toyota in 2005 employed
roughly three times more U.S. workers, on a basis of per car sold in the
U.S., than Hyundai Motor Co. Each of the Big Three manufacturers in the same
year employed roughly three times as many U.S. workers, on a per-car-sold
basis, as Toyota. "What's better for the American economy?" Mr. Doyle asks.
A GM car "built in Mexico with 147,000 jobs back here in America or a Honda
built in Alabama with 4,000 or 5,000 jobs in America?"
Measuring local content is extremely difficult because a part made in
America can be assembled from smaller parts, some of which might come from
abroad. All of which underscores how the line between what is and isn't
American, at least in the auto industry, is "going to be increasingly
difficult to pinpoint" as car makers become increasingly international and
produce more in local markets, says Michael Robinet, a vice president at CSM
General Motors Corp. is importing Korean-made cars to sell under the Chevy
nameplate. Japanese car makers are using American designers for cars being
sold in China. Some of the high end luxury BMW "imports" on the road are
made in South Carolina. "We don't look at it as an American industry," says
Mr. Robinet. "It really is a global industry."
That said, the Japanese manufacturing presence in the U.S. is growing.
Foreign-based auto makers in the U.S., led by the Japanese, account for 1.7%
of U.S. manufacturing jobs, according to a report by the Center for
Automotive Research, Ann Arbor, Mich. After $28 billion in cumulative North
America investment -- and annual purchases of parts reaching $45 billion or
more in recent years -- 67% of the Japanese-brand cars now sold in North
America are made in North America, according to the Japan Automobile
Japanese investment in U.S. production was a response to the trade tensions
of the 1990s, when tensions flared over Japan's surplus with the U.S., of
which autos and auto parts were a large portion. By spreading investment
across the U.S., Japan's car makers have won crucial allies among U.S.
politicians. Last year, when President Bush took to the road to tout his
Social Security plan, one of his first stops was a major Nissan plant in
Canton, Miss., a conservative corner of the country where the phrase "buy
American" no longer means what it once did.
"As the son of a union member, I'll admit that free trade is an issue with
which I've struggled," says Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, who
has a Nissan Titan pickup truck in his garage. But he adds: "Remember that
every Nissan built in Canton also was engineered by Americans, for
What isn't clear is how Mustang fans like Fred Barkley, president of the
Bluegrass Mustang Club of Lexington, Ky., would react to the news that the
Mustang is only 65% American, at least by one government measure. Mr.
Barkley, owner of three Mustangs, one from 1965 and two from the early
1990s, says it "doesn't bother me too much." Told the Toyota Sienna has
higher North American content than the Mustang, he is unimpressed. "I
wouldn't buy a Sienna," he says. "I don't like them because they are
It's tougher if you're stupid