Auto Resources: Domestic vs. Imports

In the late 1800s, the U.S. motor vehicle market was almost non-existent. Meanwhile, British, German, French and Italian automobile manufacturers were growing steadily. This all changed in 1908 when Ford unveiled the Model T, a car that was affordable for the average middle class family. For the next forty years, Americans bought American made cars almost exclusively. While there were imported cars on the market, it wasn’t until the 1950s that one gained enough popularity to give American manufacturers a run for their money. This car was the Volkswagen Beetle. Nicknamed The Bug, this German-made car experienced a worldwide sales boom up through the 1960s, though its sales did end up declining.

A Shift in Popularity

In 1973, 86.5% of cars sold in the United States were from domestic companies. By 1990, this number had decreased below 66%. It had become harder and harder for the Big Three to sell cars due to the changing needs of the population. In fact, in 2009 Chrysler declared bankruptcy and was allied with Fiat, an Italian automaker. The type of cars that people are buying is changing for many reasons. With the increasing price of fuel, many Americans choose to purchase more fuel-efficient cars, which tend to be from Japanese companies such as Honda and Toyota.

Which Foreign Cars are the Most Popular?

The most popular foreign brands are Nissan, Honda, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Subaru, all of which are Japanese. Why are the Japanese models so much more successful than European cars? Japanese brand models tend to be cheaper than similar European imports. The price gap was actually a lot larger prior to the 1990s, but European manufacturers were pressured to lower their prices. Many European auto manufacturers stick to making luxury vehicles designed to sell fewer units but for higher prices. The Japanese Toyota Corolla is the best-selling car of all time, which could not have been possible without support from consumers in a variety of countries. Currently the best-selling car in the United States is the Toyota Camry.

The Difference between Foreign & Domestic Vehicles

The entire concept of foreign and domestic vehicles is outdated with today’s global market. For numerous reasons, companies may choose to outsource much of the construction work. For example, a major percentage of Ford’s F-series trucks are built in their plant in Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico. Many of Honda’s cars that are sold in the U.S. are put together in their Ohio facilities. Dozens of other examples exist. Looking at the situation objectively, it is difficult to consider a car Japanese when it is built by Americans using American parts and tools. The difference between a car that is considered foreign and one that is considered domestic is now mostly in the name of the manufacturer and nothing more. The most popular American brands include Ford, Chevrolet, GM (General Motors) and Dodge.

Are Foreign Cars as Reliable as American Cars?

In order to be accepted in the U.S. motor vehicle market, an imported vehicle must pass U.S. safety and emission standards. There is no law that prohibits an American from purchasing a car from an overseas manufacturer and importing it personally, but in order to drive it legally it still must pass inspection. It is assumed that the vast majority of cars purchased in this manner will not meet national standards. There are, however, some benefits to importing one’s own car. Some models are rare and only sold overseas. The collector or the person who enjoys have a unique car should become familiar with the process if they aren’t already.   


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