Ford gives money to auto retirees' campaign; 'What you drive, drives America,' ads say.
David Shepardson - Detroit News - May 12, 2006
WASHINGTON - A new call to buy "Buy American" rang out Thursday as a Ford Motor Co.-backed group launched an ad campaign designed to convince U.S. consumers to support the struggling domestic auto industry.
The campaign levels a direct shot at Asian automakers, which have been spending millions of dollars touting their positive impact on America's economy and its communities in recent ads.
The new television, print and Internet ads declare, "What you drive, drives America," and contend the Big Three play a far more important role in the U.S. economy than Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co.
"Seems like every automaker these days claims their cars are 'Made in America.' But the truth is, U.S. automakers still employ 8 out of every 10 autoworkers. Four times more than all the automakers from Japan, Korea and Europe combined," says one ad delivered by an actor resembling an archetypical burly autoworker.
The television ads will run mostly in Washington, D.C., and Metro Detroit.
The $1 million campaign is being organized by the Level Field Institute, a group founded by retired Ford, GM and Chrysler workers. The group wouldn't identify which companies have funded the effort, but Ford spokesman Mike Moran confirmed the Dearborn automaker had provided financial support for the group. GM and Chrysler have not provided any financing, but support the effort.
"I'm a little offended with Toyota's 'We're American' campaign," said Jason Vines, head of communications for the Chrysler Group. "They're not. They are a Japanese car company. Baseball, hot dogs and Toyota? Sorry, it doesn't ring a bell."
Moving to reverse losses, Detroit automakers are undertaking major downsizing moves. At GM and Ford that includes 60,000 planned job cuts and more than 20 plant closings across North America.
The campaign argues that even with the cuts, Ford, GM and Chrysler still employ far more U.S. workers.
The Level Field group estimated that 400,000 U.S. autoworkers support about 4 million other jobs, compared with about 860,000 jobs from Asian automakers.
Ford, for example, will directly employ 110,000 people in the United States versus 103,000 for foreign automakers.
"Our increasingly global economy makes defining 'Made in America' more difficult. But we believe it still matters," said Jim Doyle, president of the Level Field Institute.
Gerald Meyers, a former chairman of Detroit-based American Motors Corp. and business professor at the University of Michigan, said the campaign likely won't convince people to buy American.
The problem, he said, is how do consumers buy a truly American car, when a GM vehicle might be assembled in Mexico and a Honda in Ohio.
"Where a car is built is a very fuzzy thing," Meyers said. "At one point, Joe Sixpack had to drive an American car. That's simply diminished today. People with a scintilla of sophistication will just buy what fits their lifestyle."
Chrysler's Vines said the heritage of a company still matters, even in a global economy.
"We have to earn the trust of the American people. We sure hope that Americans are looking at us when they look to buy a new car, but it's our job to sell them the car," he said. "Hey look at the home team a little bit. We are providing a lot of jobs."
Tim MacCarthy, president and CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers -- the lobbying group that represents Toyota, Honda and Nissan Motor Co. among other companies -- called the group "the flat earth society."
President Bush "said it best when he said they should build relevant vehicles," he said. "Lee Iacocca was right when he said if we want to sell in America, we should build here and we took him at his word. Over 60 percent of the vehicles we build are made here and that number is increasing."
The combined U.S. market share of GM, Ford and Chrysler has fallen to a new low of 55 percent this year.
President Bush is to meet with the CEOs of Detroit's automakers Thursday at the White House, likely a day before the U.S. House is set to vote on a bill to eventually raise fuel economy standards for passenger cars.
MacCarthy said the international automakers are stepping up their lobbying and communication to let people know how much they provide to the U.S. economy. "We're out telling our own story, we're not out to badmouth GM, Ford and Chrysler."
Martha Voss, a Toyota spokeswoman, didn't offer much comment on the campaign but took exception to some of the group's figures.
"We admire the traditional American auto companies and what they stand for. They are the big guys. We would certainly never take away from that," Voss said. But she said the company is proud of the 30,000 people who work for the company in the United States and plans to add to that figure.