UNITED STATES—If the rumor mill is to be believed, the US gang of automakers known as “The Big Three” may soon be known as “The Last Two.” This potential inevitability (oxymoron intended) all hinges on whether or not speculation regarding the possible sale of America’s iconic Jeep brand to a Chinese company called Great Wall is to be believed. As of now, Great Wall and current parent company to Jeep, FCA can’t seem to get their stories straight. The truth of the situation will likely not be made clear for at least a month as the US government’s foreign investment panel will have to sign off on the deal as it pertains to national security concerns. In the meantime, there are other implications to consider.
Jeep’s story began in the early 40s. Anticipating that we would soon be entering WWII, the US government challenged American manufacturers to develop a multi-purpose, go-anywhere vehicle for the military. Eventually, when the dust cleared, Willy’s MA won the contract. While there are numerous stories about how the name “Jeep” was coined, the most popular is that it was a slurring of the acronym G.P. (General Purpose), similar to G.I. (General Infantry). Some would say we defeated the Nazis on the backs of our trusty Jeeps. They represent a time when America was truly unbeatable. Jeep is a brand stitched into the very fabric of our country; it symbolizes the unstoppable soul of America. Are we going to sell our soul to the highest bidder? If so, it wouldn’t be the first time. After all, Jeep’s current parent company is Italian. However, it would likely leave an irreparable void in the hearts of patriotic American car lovers if Jeep should be sold to a company from a country that has long been the champion of many anti-American ideas.
On a forum, I recently encountered a “commenter” claiming it was “pure xenophobic racism” to be outraged at the prospect of a Chinese company purchasing an American brand. While that may be the case for some, I would point out most Chinese Americans I know don’t purchase Chinese-made products when they can avoid it. Are they being xenophobic racists? Furthermore, it isn’t a matter of race, in my opinion, but rather a matter of history.
Remembering China’s government, economic structure, and culture during the 20th century creates skepticism in my mind regarding Great Wall’s ability to run a company that made its name by building forward-thinking, unique, high quality products. Jeep would likely never have been conceivable had it not come from the mind of someone who recognized the incentive in being a pioneer. This pioneering mindset was only feasible under a system of government that offers protection to intellectual property rights. Modern China does not protect original thought. In fact, they create an environment that encourages “knock off” products. When is the last time you felt good about buying a “knock off” product?
Take sunglasses, for example. China used to make “knock off” Oakley sunglasses. If I were to set two pairs of Oakleys down in front of you and told you to inspect them, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference until I told you to look closely and you spotted that one was made in China and the other was made somewhere in western civilization (hopefully America). I would then inform you that the “American-made” pair came with stickers that indicated the Oakley’s had polarized lenses and were UV protective.
The Chinese pair did not come with these stickers. Next, I would cover the “made in” disclosures up with masking tape. Finally, I would set each pair down in front of you and make you choose one. Would this be an easy choice for you? To make it worse, I would tell you to put on the pair you chose and look up into the “UV-emitting” sun. Would you do it? Ask yourself these questions the next time you feel false outrage at someone for not wanted to buy something made in China.
Furthermore, claiming this is a xenophobic, racist response ignores the fact that most Americans would be excited at the prospect of a Japanese company getting involved with Jeep (the Japanese are Asian, not Caucasian if memory serves). Japanese companies have long been respected for their business model that tends to put the consumer and quality of the product above all else. This same culture is what eventually forced American companies to improve the quality of their own products to stay competitive. However, many would argue that Japan is not part of “western civilization.” I would argue that that conclusion is false. After all, who was it that wrote Japan’s current constitution, the constitution that steered them towards the path leading to industrial domination? Oh. Yeah. General Douglas MacArthur. You can’t get more “western” than that.
Unfortunately, what goes around comes around. Just as the British once tore down trade barriers in China by getting the Chinese addicted to opium, China is returning the favor by getting westerners (Americans) addicted to the low prices of cheap low-quality manufactured products. In the long run, the fate of our identity hinges on our ability to kick this habit. Let’s hope we eventually develop a spine and start kicking.