My Reaction to Japanese Car Buyers

Two of my friends recently bought Japanese cars, and several other friends did so in the past few years. I’ve generally kept my opinions about this to myself, because I know my immediate reaction probably isn’t truly fair or appropriate. Allow me to explain.

I was born in Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford Motor Company’s World Headquarters are located. I spent essentially all of my childhood in Northville, Michigan, which was basically a bedroom community for Ford white collar workers. My Dad was an engineer at Ford Light Truck; two-thirds or more of my friends’ fathers worked at Ford also. I particularly remember the hard slump the auto industry had in the late ’70s and early ’80s, caused by gas prices, the recession, … and the huge increase in Japanese auto imports then. People were being demoted and laid-off in sync with the increases in the US market share of the Japanese auto makers.

So when and where I grew up, a person who bought a Japanese car was a pariah. They were better than child molesters, but not by much. They were definitely less respected than drug dealers, since drug dealers at least provided many jobs within our own community (courier, lookout, enforcer, police officer, paramedic, rehab counselor, coroner, etc.).

Yes, I’m exaggerating of course. But I guarantee you I am not exaggerating anywhere near as much as you probably think I am.

I remember spates of vandalism of Japanese cars, and I don’t know if kids were behind it, because the vandals were sophisticated enough to leave alone Japanese cars with “M-plates”, special Michigan license plates used on evaluation vehicles owned by the Detroit automakers. The Japanese auto makers later defused some of the hostility against them as a whole when they started building manufacturing plants in America. But that didn’t mean anything to people in Northville; their engineering and management counterparts/competitors were still in Japan.

Of course, people like my Dad who said “The problem is that they’re making better cars than we are!” weren’t very popular either. But many people in Ford’s Light Truck Division were saying that, and they could get away with it because that division was keeping the whole company alive; they were the only division to make a profit for many years.

(Of course, you can argue that my father’s allegiance was to a foreign car company briefly. He moved to Chrysler and was there during the period when they were merged with Germany’s Daimler-Benz to form DaimlerChrysler. But that marriage was unhappy and ended in divorce, and Chrysler maintained its own engineering programs throughout.)

So part of me is happy for my friends with their nice new/newer Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas, etc. But when I hear a friend tell everyone about buying a Honda, a part of my thinks: Good god man, be quiet about that! Why don’t you share something less repulsive and embarrassing, like a story about acquiring a nasty venereal disease? That at least might be titillating. Otherwise save your grievous sins for the confessional booth (or the secular equivalent, therapy).

Again, I’m exaggerating, but not nearly as much as you probably think I am.