Country of Origin
As a "car guy," there's sometimes a feeling that I really haven't driven that many different cars. I suppose part of that is in relation to the professional automotive journalists whose opinions we read in the magazines and online. So I recently sat down and compiled a list of all the cars I had spent enough time driving to form an informed opinion of their qualities.
Excluding cars we'd owned or I'd been hauled around in before getting my driver's license, and considering the car-less decade we'd spent living in urban San Francisco and New York City, the list ended up being longer than I expected: 45 cars, all told.
Some I'd owned, some I'd borrowed, some I'd rented. Some were test drives — not the most thorough experience, but you do get a feeling for how the car handles. Hats off to the BMW Ultimate Drive to Cure Cancer program for giving me un-supervised access to most of the Bimmer lineup on a few occasions.
Not a bad tally since I've only actually owned 9 cars, total.
Who Made That?
After compiling my list of cars, another question came to mind: had I favored cars from one country over the years?
Offhand, I would have guessed that German cars would be over-represented. I do have a thing for them, after all.
Interestingly, 15 of the cars were from US manufacturers, 13 from German manufactures, 11 from Japanese manufacturers and the rest from Swedish, Korean and English marques.
If you know a bit about import car economics, however, another interesting question arises: where were these cars built?
Nationality of the manufacturer is pretty easy to figure out. Finding out where these cars were built can be a bit more work. For example, in this list of the most popular cars by state, it looks like 7 of the 11 most popular cars are Japanese. Appearances are deceiving: all of those models except the Prius are assembled in US factories, and Prius assembly lines here are in the works.
Taking those US assembly lines into account, the "country of origin" alignment of my driving history changes a bit. Since most Honda Accords, Civics, Toyota Camrys and even BMW Z4 roadsters are built in the US, the percentage of Made In USA cars I've driven jumps to 52%.
Does Made in USA Matter?
I do care where the things I buy are made. Country of origin is not the only criteria — quality, cost and sometimes style and other aspects come into play.
All thing being equal, I like to think about who benefits from my purchase. If I can put some money in a neighbor's pocket and get quality goods or services in return, I like that. It supports my neighbors and my community directly. Even if it's buying a random product from a local store, the cashier's paycheck goes back into our community.
Looking out a bit further, American-made products support the wages of people in communities across the country. A bit further out, countries like Germany treat workers with respect, with union work rules and social services that ensure a high quality of living.
I like German cars, in part because the design, engineering, construction and performance are superior, and it doesn't hurt that the folks who build them are treated with respect and can support their families in good times and bad. Likewise, every Honda I've owned or driven was built by folks right here in the US.
Which is best?
After all that hand-wringing, you're probably wondering: which did I like best?
To date, the most impressive car I've driven was then then-new 1987 Porsche 944 S. Overwhelming power, to me, is not as enjoyable as a nimble car with just enough extra HP to cause a little trouble. This was all the understated interior comfort of my '80 Scirocco, and the same general feel, but with a far better engine and suspension. But at the time it cost about the same as my entire college education (room and board included). So no dice.
Runners up include the BMW 330i and the federalized Lotus Elise. My current old Porsche is showing the potential to rival these cars, but needs some restoration work to meet its full potential.
We also owned a Honda Civic Si and Accord coupe back in the '80s that left good memories, but that was long enough ago that I wonder how they'd stack up today.
At the bottom of the list? Unfortunately, a few Chrysler products. Two of them — and Aries K-car and a first-generation Jeep Liberty — account for some of the scariest drives of my life.
Note: While there were 45 cars in my list, the stats account for only 44. The last one is a purpose-built race chassis for which I could not determine a country of origin. A first-world problem, for sure.