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In the auto industry, there's a classic debate about what constitutes a "domestic" vehicle. Traditionally, it's been viewed that if you or I bought a car or truck from Chrysler, Ford or General Motors, then you were "buying a domestic." But not really. Is "domestic" based on where the headquarters of the car company resides or is it based on where the vehicle is made? In a July 2009 study from Cars.com, the Toyota Camry is ranked as the most "American" car, based on its sales, where it's built and where the Camry's parts are made. Hmmm.

This makes me think about a recurring question we have been asked lately: "Is there a growing attitude to 'buy American'?" Some speculate that positive intent and sentiment to support ailing automakers like Chrysler and GM will develop. (Personal story: two weeks ago, my friends were talking about the recent auto dealer closings and one of them quipped, "This is the first time I've actually felt sorry for a dealer"). I don't think it's that easy to get people back on your side, unfortunately. Nor do I think the automakers believe it's going to be a cake-walk to capture certain customers. You have some very established behaviors in parts of the country that are not going to change, even over the course of a car buyer's next 1-2 purchase cycles. There are distinct areas in the U.S. (e.g., California) that are not inclined to embrace a Chrysler, Ford or GM product, given the long-standing presence of other automotive brands, such as Toyota and Honda, in those areas.

In 2008, just under 70% of all new personal retail registrations in the New England region went to import brands (worth noting: in the U.S. auto market, it's conventionally viewed that the coastal regions are import hot-beds...some call it the "Import Smile" based on following the U-shaped curve of where import brands dominate). Automotive marketing can only influence sales trends so much. Appealing to the masses with a given brand has to take into account past impressions and experiences....and unfortunately, many consumers have poor perceptions of the domestic brands based either on personal experience or hearsay.

The financial strains facing so many of the auto companies today won't oblige the public at large to feel sorry for them. We pay a lot of money for a set of wheels and we want to invest in a vehicle that meets our personal needs. In geographic areas of the country where consumers have not been inclined to buy traditional domestic brands, it's still going to be a long road for those managing sales targets for Ford, GM and Chrysler. But regardless of where the car or truck is built or sourced, marketing messages should always be crafted to appeal to the local market in order to connect with the end buyer.



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