Buying American cars: It's finally catching on




Sales of cardigans at J.Crew have soared ever since Michelle Obama wore an ivory sweater with sequins to 10 Downing Street. Now, if she'd only buy a Chrysler.
I stole that joke from "Saturday Night Live."
But, here in Detroit, where bumper stickers read "Want Change? Buy American," driving a foreign-made vehicle is becoming an anathema.
A prime example is my brother-in-law, Joe Keenan, an interior-design consultant with expensive taste. For years, he has driven a Jaguar, but since Ford sold the brand in 2008, he's now in the market for a Lincoln MKS. (His first choice, a hybrid Ford Fusion, has a lead time of seven months.)
Because the decline in the auto industry has led to severe cuts to Detroit's arts and cultural institutions, Joe says he can't, in good conscience, contribute to the downturn.
In January, the GM Foundation, the charitable arm of the struggling car maker, told groups like the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Michigan Opera Theater and Mosaic, a youth theater group, not to expect any funding this year. Late last month, Chrysler Foundation followed suit, announcing that it, too, would suspend its arts philanthropy. The Ford Motor Co. has said it expects its giving to fall by about 40 percent from last year.
"Everyone in this town that drives a foreign make should write a check to the DIA or the Detroit Symphony and then another check to a local charity to make up for the lost funds from the Big Three," Joe says. "People in this town don't realize how much support the auto industry contributes to the arts and to the needy."
Dr. Bruce Garretson, an ophthalmologist with offices in Royal Oak and Rochester, has bought BMWs for almost two decades. This will be the first year he will buy an American-made vehicle. "Although I prefer the way a BMW drives," the father of two college-age sons says. "I believe that supporting Detroit is more important than my personal taste given our current economic condition."
Even though Dr. Diane McShane of Birmingham was in the market for a used vehicle for their family car, the internist says: "My husband would not look at anything except an American car. We bought a Pacifica."
Reflecting a similar trend, a statistic has been making the e-mail rounds lately that has galvanized consumers to buy local. According to the Michigan Department of Agriculture, the projection is: "If every household started spending just $10 per week of their current grocery budget on locally grown foods, we'd keep more than $37 million each week circulating within Michigan's economy."
In 2003, Ryan Anderson of Lincoln Park says he saw the writing on the wall. The following year, he started the Web site buymichiganproducts.com. "I just figured if people would start pumping their money into the local economy, we just might improve," says Anderson, a Web site development and software consultant.
The site provides a directory of Michigan-made products and company listings and also is sponsoring a buy-Michigan pledge calling for spending the extra few bucks expected in paychecks from the economic stimulus package on in-state products.
The 36-year-old says: "The site was running steadily until about six months ago, when traffic shot up dramatically. Last month, March 2009, was our best month ever."
Who knows? One visit to the site and you might be eating Kellogg's brand cereal from Battle Creek and Jiffy Mix muffins from Chelsea for breakfast, Koegel's deli meats from Flint for lunch and Romano's pasta sauce from Shelby Township for dinner with a glass of Merlot from St. Julian in Paw Paw or a glass of milk from Guernsey Farms in Northville.
Now, if we could just get the members of President Obama's auto task force to dump their personally owned foreign-made vehicles. In February, Detroit News Washington Bureau Chief David Shepardson reported only two of the eighteen policymakers own American-made vehicles. Unfortunately, that track record is no laughing matter at all.

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