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.”
Coming Home – Majority Now Rank US Cars as Better