Seventeen years after building their first cars in America, Japanese automakers are getting more recognition from the U.S. public as 'domestic' producers.
A survey released last week found that 63 percent of those questioned agreed that a Japanese vehicle built in the United States qualifies as an American product.
Though it sounds like a modest feat, the response represents a considerable swing in public opinion for makers of non-U.S.-badged vehicles.
Only three years ago, a similar survey found that only 51 percent of those questioned considered U.S.-built Japanese autos to be American products.
Both surveys were commissioned by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.
William Duncan, director of JAMA's U.S. office, said, 'In the 1980s, there was a perception that you had an American car or a European car or a Japanese car. But the sourcing of vehicles has changed rather dramatically since then.'
Japanese automakers built 2.4 million cars and trucks in the United States last year; they built none prior to 1982. The companies have spent millions in image advertising during the past decade to demonstrate their involvement in the American economy and the amount of their investment here. Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Corp., in particular, routinely run conspicuous ads touting their North American factories, employees, designers and community involvement.
Duncan said that public opinion about brand nationality is still finding its way into dealer showrooms, but to a lesser degree than in the 1980s.
'What we're seeing is an evolution in the way people look at the auto industry,' Duncan said. 'The industry has become so global with so many changes in the ownership of companies. The lines are becoming fuzzier with mergers and acquisitions.'
The recent survey, conducted by International Communications Research of Media, Pa., also found that 76 percent of those questioned agreed that competition between U.S. and Japanese automakers has helped U.S. firms improve their product quality.