For Cars, ‘Buy American’ Sentiment Is Spotty

If automakers start shedding dealerships in their effort to avoid bankruptcy, a new survey provides a roadmap of where they might feel inclined to make the deepest cuts. One question in the Gallup polling (fielded the second week of this month) gauged whether country of origin matters to Americans when they buy a car. It does, but in significantly different ways from one region to another.

In the Midwest, 41 percent of respondents said they’d consider vehicles from an American company only, far outnumbering the 7 percent who said they’d consider vehicles from foreign companies only. (Most of the rest said they’d be happy with either sort.) In the East, by contrast, the number who’d only buy an American brand was nearly matched by the number who’d only buy foreign (26 percent vs. 23 percent). Respondents in the South were twice as likely to say American-only as foreign-only (30 percent vs. 15 percent), while the margin was narrower in the West (24 percent American-only, 16 percent foreign-only).

Age is as much a dividing line as region when it comes to buy-American intentions, or lack thereof. As you might guess, respondents in the 65-plus cohort were much more likely to say they’d only buy American than to say they’d only buy foreign (49 percent vs. 11 percent). Among the poll’s 18-39-year-olds, though, the American-only tally was only a bit higher than the foreign-only vote (21 percent vs. 19 percent). The 40-64-year-olds fell in between, with 29 percent saying they’d buy American only and 15 percent saying they’d buy foreign only.

The same survey took a look at whether the possibility of bankruptcy by American automakers makes consumers wary of buying from those companies. Among respondents who said they’d consider buying an American car, 75 percent said the bankruptcy issue wouldn’t affect their purchase decision. But a significant minority said it would make them “much less willing” (7 percent) or “somewhat less willing” (18 percent) to buy from a U.S. automaker.