Poll: Americans now prefer American cars

Ford assembly line in Chicago (AP)

After a long romance with foreign rivals, America’s love affair with the automobile is returning to its roots with a revived affection for U.S.-made cars.

Slightly more Americans now say the United States makes better-quality vehicles than Asia does, with 38 percent saying U.S. cars are best and 33 percent preferring autos made by Asian companies, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll.

The survey suggests those numbers are largely fueled by a plunge in Toyota’s reputation and an upsurge in Ford’s. The poll was conducted in March, as Toyota was being roiled by nightmarish publicity over its recall of more than 8 million vehicles around the globe and allegations that it responded sluggishly to safety concerns.

Though the U.S. advantage is modest, it marks a significant turnabout for American automakers battered by recession and relentless competition from foreign manufacturers. When the same question was asked in a December 2006 AP-AOL poll, 46 percent said Asian countries made superior cars, while just 29 percent preferred American vehicles, reflecting a perception of U.S. automotive inferiority that began taking hold about three decades ago.

“Toyota’s problems are not to be minimized here,” David Williams, dean of the business administration school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., said in explaining the attitude shift.

In both AP polls, Japan — home to brands like Toyota, Honda and Nissan — was by far the dominant Asian nation volunteered as producing the best cars. European autos — which include BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen — were called top quality by 15 percent last month, about the same as the 17 percent who said so four years ago.

Williams and others also cited a fresh look Americans are giving U.S. automakers, especially Ford and General Motors. Though GM and Chrysler went through bankruptcy last year and the federal government invested $80 billion to keep them afloat, GM has revamped its lineup with more fuel-efficient and crossover vehicles. Analysts say Ford revived its reputation by not accepting the taxpayer bailout and improving its vehicles’ gasoline mileage.

Highlighting the changing attitudes, 15 percent in the March poll said Toyota makes the best cars, down from 25 percent who said so in 2006. Moving in the opposite direction was Ford, cited as tops by just 9 percent in 2006 but by 18 percent last month.

Eighteen percent said GM cars were best, little changed from 2006. Chrysler — which continues to struggle — remained mired at 3 percent.

“They last,” Charlotte Flentge, 60, of Chester, Ill., a Chevrolet Cavalier owner, said of American autos. “You get a good American car, you know you have a quality car you can be safe in and not be afraid to put your family in.”

Those likeliest to say Asian-made autos are superior included men, the better educated and residents of Western states. U.S. cars were a strong preference for those age 50 and up and rural residents.

Overall, though, only 51 percent in last month’s poll expressed strong confidence that cars sold in the U.S. are safe, with owners of domestic and foreign cars giving similar responses. The 2006 survey did not ask that question.

“Toyota is leading the parade in reducing confidence in the safety of automobiles,” said Gerald C. Meyers, a former auto executive with American Motors and now a University of Michigan business professor. “I suspect that’s holding the number down a lot.”

Despite consumers’ altered views, the poll showed that allegiance remains strong to many makes. Well over nine in 10 owners of Fords, GMs, Hondas and Toyotas expressed satisfaction with their cars, with the figure slightly lower for Chryslers.

Among the brand loyalists is Vernon Harmon, 44, a police officer from Rock Hill, S.C., proud owner of a Toyota and a Mazda.

“I know people are going to say, ‘That guy, is he not watching the news?’” he said. “I know what’s going on. I still think Japan makes the best cars in the world. Period.”

With the U.S. trying to claw out of a recession, the poll showed that Americans’ taste for alternative-fuel cars is being tempered by economic realities. Such cars often cost more than similarly sized vehicles that run on gasoline.

By 61 percent to 37 percent, most said last month they would consider buying an alternative-fuel auto. That was a narrower margin than the 70 percent to 29 percent who said so in 2006.

Tellingly, people cited the environment and a desire to save money about equally last month when asked which would prevail in making their decision. Four years ago, with a strong economy, protecting the environment outweighed saving money, 47 percent to 34 percent.

“I’m concerned about the environment, but I don’t want to kill myself, I don’t want to go into bankruptcy,” said Kathryn Mershon, 47, of Henderson, Nev.

The poll also found that:

_Fifty-six percent own vehicles made by U.S. automakers, about the same as in 2006.

_Eight in 10 live in households with autos, including about two-thirds who have two or more cars.

_Six in 10 autos were bought used.

_About four in 10 say their dream car would be a foreign brand, compared with three in 10 wishing for a domestic car.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 3-8 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media. It involved interviews with 1,002 adults conducted by landline and cellular telephones. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

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Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

The Associated Press-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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14 Responses to "Poll: Americans now prefer American cars"

  1. Bill Cravener  April 21, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I know it shows my age but I miss the days when automobiles were mechanical things I could fix, not the computer controlled things that I can’t fix.

    • Donny  April 23, 2010 at 10:20 am

      I so agree with you buddy but thats the way there doing them now so you will spend more money letting them fix it! but nothing is like the good old cars!

  2. griff  April 21, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Gee, now that all of our “American” cars are manufactured overseas or in Mexico and Canada we see a resurgence of American Pride? Where were these “patriotic” fools when our entire manufacturing base was shipped off to China?

    Billions of dollars from the auto bailout went toward moving more of our auto industry overseas. Yeah, buy American – the Chinese will thank you for it.

    • Mightymo  April 21, 2010 at 11:01 am

      Typical, people make associations where they feel it best supports their own ideas, whether it’s true or not is irrelevant.
      Just how did billions of dollars of bailout go to moving the auto industry to China or any other country?
      The American auto industry was forced to sell because they were lossing money, not because of the bailout. Hummer, Volvo, Saab, and probably a half dozen other brands deserved to be sold, so did Chrysler.
      As far as the American pride, I fall into that group. You couldn’t get me to even look at an American car a few years ago. But now that quality is truely on the increase, and there is a need to support our own, I would really like to own a new Ford Fusion Hybrid, but the price is prohibitive.
      Other than that particular model, nothing I see meets my satisfaction other than foreign cars, but that’s slowly changing.

      • Guardhouse lawyer  April 21, 2010 at 2:22 pm

        Do not question the Great Griff. He sees all, knows all, but fusually doesn’t tell all. You just gotta have faith in the smoke he blows. How dare you even think to question his omnipotence and omniscience? After all, he’s the one who told us the other day that he knows how to fix the whole world, but he also told us he isn’t going to tell us how.

        • griff  April 21, 2010 at 5:25 pm

          Actually, that quote was in reference to Doug’s omniscient and omnipresent attitude, not mine. Understand plain English, do we, or do I need to use footnotes?

          Washington Post: U.S. Restructuring, G.M. to build more cars overseas

          Huffington Post: Build more autos overseas, marginalize more American families

          Clevelan Plain-Dealer: Chrysler, Obama take the truth about plant closings for a spin

          Manufacturing policy mistakes haunt U.S.

          The fact is that the auto bailout will move more jobs overseas and more and more of those shiny new “American” cars that people are itching to buy are being and will be built overseas. We haven’t even seen the worst of our already dismal auto manufacturing base yet, but stay tuned…

          • Mightymo  April 21, 2010 at 6:30 pm

            Again, I say you are making associations where there are none.

            The bailout was because the automakers were failing economically. If it weren’t for the bailouts, there very well may not be an auto industry in America today other than Ford. So the bailout provided “life” to a failing business and now that business has to do something to prolong that life.

            Hmmmm, lets see, we are failing in the US in large part because of the cost of doing business here, maybe if we produce a larger portion of our product in an area that will make production more economical we can survive.

            So now that they want to produce a more economic product in order to keep their business alive, are they moving because of the bailout, or are they moving because the bailout gave them a second chance at life and it’s the right thing to do.

            I think this is simply economic and business evolution, and it would happen no matter what anyone did.

            Our products are too expensive because we American workers have enjoyed the great pay and bennies for too long. Our businesses either adapt, move, or fail. Foreign builders move in because there still remains a lucrative market for new cars.

            Those foreign builders start out with less pay and bennies than the older American builders and they stay in business as a result. They also implement plans to cut costs, such as building sub components overseas where it is cheaper, then shipping them in and finalizing the car in the US for the US market.

            This is all economic 101, and the fact that like Japan during the 70′s and 80′s, it is now China that has become the newest economic powerhouse, and I’m willing to be that you are as guilty as anyone of buying the cheapest product with a complete and total disreqard for who or where it was manufactured.

            The fact is that we ourselves did this to the American marketplace by enjoying such a good lifestyle at the expense of our bread and butter.

      • griff  April 21, 2010 at 5:30 pm

        Gee Bill, it used to be that American cars were built from the ground up here in America. What that article reveals is that more and more vehicles and subcomponents are being manufactured overseas, and is trending downward.

        It takes time to tool up for a large manufacturing endeavor such as an auto assembly line. In time, you will see a significant decrease in American production as the foreign factories come on-line.

  3. woody188  April 21, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Wife totaled my ’05 Colorado a couple of weeks ago. We now have two Chrysler vehicles, a Town & Country Touring and a 300 Touring both from ’06. Then there is our darling, the ’02 HD Sportster. ;)

    • griff  April 22, 2010 at 5:21 am

      I traded my Hemi Durango for a Toyota Rav4 and lost five grand in the deal just to get rid of it. Worst brakes on the planet, among other issues. Traded the wife’s Ford, literally falling apart at 76,000 miles, on the same day for a Corolla.

      As for the two-wheeler, Kawasaki ZX-6R for me. Me likey go fast. That choice had nothing to do with buying American, as no American company makes sportbikes. So I had to “settle” for the fastest, most nimble Japanese 600 at the time.

      • Bill Cravener  April 22, 2010 at 7:07 am

        griff and woody, well at least we have one thing we can agree on we like to ride. I have a 2004 Yamaha V-Star 1100 Classic that I enjoy. Its no speed demon but its big and fat and likes to cruise. :-)

  4. griff  April 30, 2010 at 4:17 pm

    MightyMo,

    How am I makiing false associations when these articles point out that, for instance, Chrysler agreed to close five plants in order to secure the bailout, only to later file Chapter 11 any way?

    The reasons our automakers are failing are many, to include gross mismanagement, failure to build a desirable product, and unions. So we can’t compete with other cars made here with non-union labor, such as Toyota and Honda?

    For instance, I have a friend whose dad workled at a plant producing transmission gears for Chrysler. He made $38.00 per hour running a CNC mill. For overtime he made time-and-a-half, double-time-and-a-half on weekends, and triple-time-and-a-half on holidays. That’s $133.00 per hour on holidays alone. So for working a holiday, he made more in one day than the average American makes in a week or even two.

    At the same time I happened to be working in a machine shop that produced dental instruments. I operated two CNC machines and made $12.00 per hour.

    So your solution is to move every thing offshore while other producers do just fine with American labor in non-union shops. So you’re all for slave labor in order to supply us with inferior products?

    And no, I don’t buy cheap shit no matter where it’s produced. As a friend used to say, “a cheap man pays twice.” In fact, I avoid Wal-Mart like the plague that it is. I buy as much as I can from local producers.

    In these parts we have many local producers. The Amish grow great food, and there is a local organic farming co-op called Organic Valley where I purchase much of my food. In fact, I just took delivery of my yearly purchase of Angus beef from a local grower at $2.50 a pound (ground) and $3.00 a pound for all other cuts. Wal-Mart can’t touch that price for pure Angus beef. Normally some friends and I pool our money and purchase a quarter or half cow that is expertly butchered and literally melts in your mouth, but this year I bought just a hundred pounds of ground at half the price in grocery stores and I’m contributing to the local economy.

    • woody188  April 30, 2010 at 10:53 pm

      LOL, I’m drinking a local favorite right now, 90 Shilling from Columbus Brewing Co. They craft a great porter too. :)

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