How things change. Last year at this time the news was filled with stories of the demise of the American auto industry. Pundits crowed that years of building poor-quality products, and a refusal to keep pace with changing consumer demands -- not to mention a global recession -- had finally done the American auto industry in.
Now, just about a year later, the story is runaway Toyotas, while domestic automakers reap awards and revenue. So, now that the shoe is on the other foot, should you buy an American car now? Here are five reasons why you should -- and for each of those, a few counter arguments on why you shouldn't.
1. You Can Get a Great Deal
You'd think that domestic automakers making their way back from the brink would be bad news for consumers. After all, amid bailouts and dealership closings, carmakers were desperate for sales and offered some pretty incredible deals. But now, with Toyota in trouble, the venerable Japanese brand is the one rolling out the deals. And American automakers have followed suit. Right now Ford and Chevrolet are offering zero-percent financing on most of their lineup, including customer favorites like the Chevy Traverse and Ford Escape.
Of course, the American brands aren't the only ones trying to match the Toyota deals. Mazda is currently offering zero-percent financing on some of its models, and Volkswagen has brought some of its financing rates down to less than two percent. Finally, you can't forget those Toyota deals -- most of the lineup is available with zero-percent financing, though the deals do vary by region.
2. Quality is High
J.D. Power just released its annual Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and it may finally put to rest the conventional wisdom that American brands are short on quality. The top two midsize cars for dependability are the Buick LaCrosse and Mercury Milan, while the Cadillac CTS and Lincoln MKZ land in the top three of the Entry Premium Vehicle class, beating out cars from BMW and Lexus. Plus, seven of the 10 vehicle brands with the lowest problem rates come from Ford and GM. Not too shabby.
But, quality isn't just up for American brands -- it's up across the entire industry. From 2009, J.D. Power reports that overall vehicle dependability has increased by seven percent. The study also found that 25 of 36 brands in the study showed an improvement in dependability from 2009. So yes, it's easy to find a quality American car now, but the same is true of almost any manufacturer.
3. You Can Still Go Green
American automakers have been lambasted for focusing on large trucks and SUVs at the expense of small cars, but that doesn't mean that imports are your only green options. In fact, American car makers have introduced a bunch of well-respected hybrids. The Ford Fusion Hybrid is the 2010 North American Car of the Year, while GM has brought hybrid technology to its large trucks and SUVs. While their fuel economy isn't standout by most hybrid standards, getting midsize car fuel economy from an SUV that can seat eight and tow a boat is still pretty outstanding. Plus, other hybrids like the Mercury Mariner Hybrid have made it possible for families who need space and utility to save on gas and emissions. Finally, the highly anticipated Chevy Volt can run on electricity alone for up to 40 miles.
Of course, lots of imports also have green options. The Toyota Prius is a green movement icon, and the Lexus RX Hybrid gives buyers a luxury SUV option. German makes like BMW, Audi and Volkswagens don't have wide-scale hybrid operations, but they do have clean-burning, ultra-efficient diesel engines in some of their cars. Finally, Nissan is slated to start selling its LEAF electric vehicle, which can reportedly go 100 miles between charges, later this year. Red, white and blue aren't your only options when going green.
4. They're Class Leaders
Today's American cars can not only stand up to the competition -- they can beat it. In U.S. News' car rankings, American cars currently dominate the top spots in the midsize and large car classes. The top five affordable midsize SUVS are American, and when it comes to compact and large SUVs, two of the top three models in both classes are from domestic manufacturers. Of course, you can't forget those trucks that domestic automakers do so well -- the top six full size pickups are all American.
If you're looking for a small car, however, imports tend to beat American entries. Honda has the top two affordable small cars, with Hyundai taking the number three spot. In fact, when it comes to small cars you have to get to the nineteenth car on the list before an American model shows up. Of course, part of the reason is because domestic automakers make fewer small models.
5. You'll Help American Workers
When the federal government gave bailout money to General Motors and Chrysler, few people were happy about it. But the decision rested on the fact that allowing those two companies to fail would have not only hurt those two companies, but would have caused a ripple effect through the economy. Think about it: if GM went under, its suppliers would have lost business, and its dealers would have gone under. Even seemingly unrelated industries, like radio and TV, would have suffered from lost advertising revenue. Now that the industry is stabilizing, by buying American you're supporting a giant part of the economy. The sale doesn't just help the dealer. It helps everyone connected with the dealer, from the people who clean the dealership floors at night to the radio station who runs the dealership's ads, to the factory worker who assembled your car and the suppliers who provided the parts to do it. Plus, if Chrysler and GM increase their sales, the taxpayers could get more of their money back.
The flip side is, the same is true when you buy from almost any dealership. While other car makes may not have gotten U.S. government funds, all are enmeshed in the economy at both the local and national level. All of the dealerships, regardless of what kind of car they sell, employ people in your community, so a sale helps them out too. Plus, most imports have factories and suppliers in the U.S. as well. Then there's the dirty little secret that while most American cars are built here, many aren't. Buying American doesn't necessarily mean that all of your purchase money stays here any more than buying an import means that all your purchase money goes overseas.
Sign on the Apple Pie-Encrusted Line
When you come down to it, there are a lot of complex reasons why you should or shouldn't buy an American car right now. But the answer to the question itself is pretty simple: You should buy an American car if you want to. While consumers may have had concerns about American quality, that's not the case any more. If there isn't a domestic car out there that fits your needs and tastes, you've got plenty of import options to choose from. The bottom line is, no matter who built the car, you need to find one that fits your lifestyle.