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What is the real difference between a Japanese car and an American car?

Cadillac Converj concept at the 2009 LA Auto Show
Cadillac Converj concept at the 2009 LA Auto Show
Stephen Panoff

Being a native Detroiter, I have grown up with family and friends who are tied to the Domestic Three in one form or another.  I drive by Ford's manufacturing plants every day to and from work, watching as they pump out some of the best cars in America.  I personally drive a Chevrolet, and have friends who drive Chrysler automobiles.  Then I get to work and have to park my car next to a Kia, behind a Honda, kiddie-corner from a Toyota.  Before I start really getting into this topic, let me get it out in the open: I do not hate the foreign automakers.  I just strongly dislike the bias against the American automakers.

I have gotten into more arguments than I can remember with owners of foreign cars.  I just ask why they chose to buy a car from a Japanese automaker, and their response is a very common one.  They tell me their car is better, and it was made here, so it's just as American as a car from GM, Ford or Chrysler.  This statement sets me off like no other.  It brings up two very different arguments; in what way is your car "better" and how is it the same just because it was made here?

The first argument could be answered based on factual data or fought out over personal opinion.  Factual data like the topic of fuel economy.  Owners of Toyota's or Honda's always say right off the bat, "well my car gets better gas mileage than Car A or B from the Domestics."  

Sure there are cases where this is true, but lets name some where it is definitely false.  The Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram full size pickups are all more fuel efficient than the Toyota Tundra or Nissan Titan pickups.  The sales figures prove that the American pickups are more popular and their better fuel economy is just one reason.  Don't believe me?  Check out the automakers websites, or look at the sales data.  The F-150 was the best selling vehicle in the U.S. last year, with the Silverado coming in third.

The Ford Fusion is more fuel efficient than the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, and not only that, but it is rated higher in initial quality than either foreign car.  The Fusion is also available in hybrid form, which bests the Camry hybrid by 8 mpg in the city.  Honda's Accord hybrid performed so poorly it was dropped after only three model years.

Quality is another reason many foreign owners bring up for their car purchase.  However, based on third party research data, Ford Motor Company was the highest quality full line automaker based on initial quality in 2009.  General Motors offers a longer warranty on their vehicles than either Toyota, Honda or Nissan.  Why would GM do this if their cars were so much worse in quality?  The warranty repair costs would kill them!

The second point I want to address is the location of assembly for a vehicle.  Many Toyota's, Honda's and Nissan's are made in the United States, so their owners argue that that makes them American.  Sadly this statement is just not true!  Even though those cars were built here, the majority of the engineering, design and testing took place outside of the U.S.  The average car takes around 20 hours to build, but takes 3-5 years to design, test, develop and ready for production.  Those years of work are done mostly outside of the country for foreign automakers.  Not only that, but the pay rates for engineers and designers working to develop the car are much higher than the pay for the hourly workers who assemble them here.

What's the point of this rather long rant Steve?  Why are you telling us all this?  I bring up these points to show that maybe the American automakers deserve a break.  They are making the best cars of their 100+ year history and are now able to compete (and beat) their Japanese competition.  Remember, the foreign automakers don't make bad cars, the American automakers just make better ones.  So please, help OUR economy and consider a GM, Ford or Chrysler for your next car.


  • American Citizen 5 years ago

    Ford Focus originated from a Ghia concept car in Geneva.
    C'mon you remember Ghia...Volkswagen Karmann Ghia
    Ford Focus - hardly an American concept and design.

    GM Pontiac Vibe equals a Toyota Matrix
    Chevrolet Nova in '86, '87 cloned from the Toyota Corolla

    Chrysler - American influence disappeared long long ago....

    Stop your whining and realize its a small world
    --especially in the auto industry

    Big 3 needed an ass kicking and got knocked out cold, they lost !

  • Jeremy Rooney - Detroit Performance Car Examiner 5 years ago

    Well said Steve! I've said recently how sick I am of people with absolutely no form of car knowledge complaining about the "poor quality" of American cars. Most of these people without any evidence to back up their claims.

    American Citizen, do you want me to rattle of the list of American influenced foriegn cars? Cross platforming between automakers has been around forever.. so what's your point? You pick and choose a small handful of poor examples to feebly try and make a point. The big three are far from losing anything.

  • Stephen Panoff 5 years ago

    Sorry American Citizen for all my "whining," I guess some of us just care about the U.S. economy more than the Japanese economy. The Ford Focus originated from a Ghia concept? What year and concept are you referring to exactly? It would seem odd to me that Ford would create a car based off a Ghia concept, since they don't own them, it would be copyright infringement.

    How is it a small world because two huge global companies like GM and Toyota worked together? Did I ever say the Japanese and American companies never worked together? NO, I didn't. If the Japanese are so great why were Vibes so much cheaper than the equivalent Matrix? Negative perception, that's why! Foreign car lovers saw them as a GM product even though they were made in a Japanese car factory.

    If the Big 3 got their "ass kicked" and are out cold, why are all three still in business? Ford just won Car and Truck of the Year awards too. Try to present some facts in your arguments, instead of your personal b

  • Patrick Rall-Detroit Autos Examiner 5 years ago

    Well put Steve. I like how the "American Citizen" is using vehicles from the 80s for her "facts".

  • MaDriver 4 years ago

    Ewwww.... I Would Never Buy a GM Vehicle or any of the Other Big 3 Vehicles... Gross... =P

  • OwnedThemAll 2 years ago

    Im am sick of the initial quality argument. Who cares about initial quality. All cars have good "initial quality". Its how you car is woking 10-15 years down the road. I used to sell Subarus and we sold used cars as well. The domestic trade ins always had issues, broken, stuff, jacked interior, and so on but a Camry or Accord, or Outback of the same age and milage was in great shape with little to no issues. You cant say its a fluke because 19 times out of 20 this was the case. Gas milage isnt everthing either. Look at Cost Of Ownership numbers. A Fusion may get a few mpg better than a Camry but the cost of ownership is much lower due to better (longer lasting) quality. Initial quality is a joke and should stop being considered when looking at cars.

  • BostonMassNative 2 years ago

    I am 25 year old female who lives in the city. I never hd the need for a car but now that i have a child I am looking into buying one. I have been doing so much research because i want a reliable and affordable car for me and my child. Everyone is pushing me to get a foreign car Toyota,Honda,Nissan,Infiniti, or Audi. I however am in love with the 2008 Chrysler I love how it looks and the fell of it when it drives. When I tell people that is the car I want I get looks of horror and tons of negative comments. Its scaring me off of the Chrysler but after reading your blog I think im going to further research and make my own decision. So thanks for taking yor time to write this and renewing my faith in the American Car.

  • johnny 1 year ago

    Good job Steve! It seems as though "American Citizen" is stuck in the 1980s. For for us whoare much more with the times and youthful, we salute you. Thank you for using facts and not just random arguements. I do not hate Japanese cars, but I agree with your opinion on the domestic brands. Year, I understand the Vibe, etc have Japanese heritage, but if you wanna use those examples against America, we could do the same thing and talk about the antique Nissan truck line. Yeah, in the 1980s, domestics got their asses kicked by the Japanese imports because thhey were lazy and arrogant. But a lot has changed. Yes, Toyotas and Hondas are reliable, great cars, but when somebody bashes a US maker for being "not as good as a Japanese car", I just laugh at them because they are either or know nothing about the modern car industry.

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