KEITH CRAIN

This is not a simple business anymore

COMMENTARY
Keith Crain is editor-in-chief of Automotive News
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Honda Motor Co. announced last week that it exported more vehicles from the United States in 2013 than it shipped from Japan to the United States.

Last month, Fiat completed its purchase of Chrysler. The new company, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, will have its corporate headquarters in the Netherlands and its tax domicile in the United Kingdom and will list its stock in New York and Milan.

It hasn't been easy over the past decade or so to figure out what's a domestic vehicle and what's an import. And it's not getting any easier as more companies become multinationals. It probably doesn't matter anymore.

When you look at the companies manufacturing vehicles in the United States, you see more and more transplants hiring workers and buying parts from suppliers all over the world.

When you look at where Ford and General Motors are sourcing their U.S. cars, things get even more complicated.

My sense is that the era of declaring what is a domestic and what is an import has passed. It's time to recognize that all the manufacturers represented in the United States are sourcing vehicles from all over the world.

When Volvo is owned by a Chinese company and manufactures Volvos in China, and when Buick builds and sells more vehicles in China than in the United States, it's tricky to figure out who's on first.

Manufacturers may make some sourcing decisions based on tax laws and certain regulations. But it doesn't matter anymore to customers where a car is built. Customers are far more interested in where a vehicle is developed and engineered than they are in where it is assembled.

We will continue to report the domestics' share of the market, but it has become complicated. As time goes on, it will no doubt become even more difficult to talk domestic vs. import.

It was once fairly simple to report production, sales, registration and inventory statistics. Today there are all sorts of permutations on assembly, content and sales.

As you stroll through any auto show in the United States these days, you can tell there are no simple answers. Some people worry about the loss of manufacturing jobs resulting from sales of "foreign" vehicles, while others focus on all those international companies setting up local manufacturing.

The number of companies manufacturing cars and trucks in the United States in recent years has never been greater -- and that's good.

You can reach Keith Crain at kcrain@crain.com.


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