There’s an occasional saying in western Michigan, where I grew up: “If you’re not Dutch, with a tax domicile in Great Britain, you’re not much.”
It’s something like that, anyway.
Regardless, today was a big day for the venerable Dutch auto industry.
Chrysler, the once undeniably American company that suffered through a decadelong marriage to a German, then had a taxpayer-supported shotgun wedding with an Italian, is settling down in the Netherlands.
It’s now part of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a Dutch holding company with a tax domicile in Great Britain, a stock listing in New York and a three-letter logo that I hope no one spent more than nine seconds creating.
FCA — which Wikipedia tells me could also refer to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the Farm Credit Administration or the Ferengi Commerce Authority from TV’s “Star Trek: The Next Generation” — will soon introduce its newest vehicles, the Dutch Durango and Fiat Vijfhonderd. A hastily assembled commercial airing during the Super Bowl on Sunday will kick off a new advertising campaign: “Imported from Utrecht.”
Actually, that’s not true. Little will visibly change as a result of all this.
Chrysler will keep its headquarters in Michigan. Fiat will still be based in Italy. CEO Sergio Marchionne, an Italian-Canadian, will still always wear black sweaters and feud with his German archrival, Volkswagen Chairman Ferdinand Piech.
But it raises a couple questions: What nationality is Chrysler now?
Is it Dutch? Italian? Italian-American?
And another: Is there still a Detroit 3? Or is Motown down -- as some argued during the DaimlerChrysler era -- to just two?
The answers might seem trivial. But they do matter in terms of pride. They affect how Automotive News and other media outlets describe Chrysler. They matter to many Americans who feel their tax money was used to save a foreign car company.
This is an industry that debates whether a Toyota Camry should be considered Japanese just because that’s where the company that builds it is based, even though it’s assembled in Kentucky by workers who spend their paychecks at local businesses. The Camry has less foreign content than every vehicle sold in the United States except the Ford F-150, according to the 2013 Cars.com American-Made index.
Meanwhile, the top-selling “American” car, the Ford Fusion, is made mostly in Mexico.
There are few clear answers anymore, and Chrysler just made things even more confusing.