The collapse of America’s automotive giants into bankruptcy and government bailouts is stunning. One ingredient in the failure of Chrysler and General Motors has been their inability to leverage their all-American status into selling power.
This much is clear: they could have done a better job of it. There are dozens of companies that have, in one way or another, made ‘buying American’ cool. Some just play up their status as American icons, others latch onto the trend toward localism. And some companies play to concerns that competitors are exploiting foreign labour.
Here are 10 companies that the American auto-industry should look to when it attempts to figure out how to get more Americans to start buying their cars.
Harley-Davidson may be the quintessential 'made in America' brand. Despite being founded in the first decade of the 20th century, it retains its appeal to youth, with around half of its customers under 35.
The company has survived concerns over thuggish motorcycle culture, a period of shoddy design, competition with foreign manufacturers, labour strife and shareholder lawsuits. Through it all, however, Harley brand has remained so strong that it currently makes 5% of its net revenue from licensing its logo.
'America Runs on Dunkin,' the company proclaims. It is currently owned by a consortium of private equity companies, including Bain Capital, the Carlyle Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners. But earlier it was owned by foreign beverage companies. Nonetheless, it clung closely to its heritage as a thoroughly American company, successfully fighting off foreign competition from the likes of Canadian coffee giant Tim Horton's.
At first glance, Toyota might seem like an odd choice for this slideshow. To many inside the Detroit auto-industry, Toyota might actually look like the antithesis of 'buy American.' But that's because they don't fully appreciate how strongly Toyota pushes its 'made in the USA' quality. Toyota employs around 35,000 Americans directly and indirectly employs 400,000 more at suppliers and dealers. Toyota's presence in the U.S. is now pervasive that a surveys of business leaders by Fortune magazine found Toyota one of America's Most Admired Companies for at least two years in a row.
While most of the athletic footwear industry has moved its production overseas to take advantage cheaper production costs, New Balance continues to make most of its shoes in the United States. New Balance has long been popular with the grandparent set, who admired their no-frills design. The shoes found their way onto the feet of the grunge set in the 1990s and then, more recently, New Balance became extremely popular with hipster sneakerheads. This perpetually cool brand achieves its staying power by just staying, avoiding trendy flashiness.
There was once a time when an American factory could profitably make a good, solid article of clothing while paying its workers a decent wage. Actually, that time is now, and the company that's pulled if off best is American Apparel. It's run by the infamous Dov Charney, and the company prides itself and making all of its trendy, hipster clothes at a lean and clean location in inner-city LA. It also is shameless in its use of sex to sell clothes, going as far as hiring porn stars to appear in its ads. Here's a sample of the company's style.
In 1928, Schott invented the quintessential leather biker jacket. Serving both bikers and punk rockers, imitators can only hope to ape the Schott look and style. Not only is the style quintessentially American, but the jackets still embody high quality American-made craftsmanship as the products are still made in NYC.
From time to time, American drinkers develop some kind of fondness for European alcohol, but in the end, they always go back to the classic. Jack Daniels, the major of the iconic American whiskey, knows how to sell America. It's long been a pop culture staple, having been linked to various movies and rock stars. It doesn't get any more American than the company's distillery.
The Stratocaster! It's the ultimate American electric guitar, used by middle schoolers banging out three-chord punk rock anthems to stadium rockers. They're made all over the world, but the premium ones come from right here in the U.S. of A. Not familiar with it? You've probably seen this scene from Wayne's World.
It's now owned by Luxxotica, but the tony outfitter has always symbolized the American's modest aspirations to look dignified. Early on the company sold the quintessentially American 'ready-to-wear' suit, perfectly symbolizing our desire to look good with reasonable cost and effort.
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