- Domestic Industry Impact
- The Big Three Today
- The Importance of Restructuring
- Consumer Benefits
- Price Competition
- Diversity in the Auto Industry
- The Latest Technology
- Economic Impact
The United States imports millions of vehicles yearly from Japan, Germany, South Korea, and Mexico. Vehicle imports play a significant role in the US auto industry and the overall economy. This post will examine the impact of imports on the domestic auto sector, consumer benefits, and broader economic effects.
Imported cars have become an essential part of the US automotive landscape. In the past few decades, global automakers have significantly expanded their presence and market share in the United States. Today, the US imports more passenger vehicles than any other country.
Vehicle imports totaled over 8 million units in 2019 alone, accounting for nearly half of all new light vehicle sales that year. Considering their size and scope, imports have substantially shaped industry competition and consumer choice.
Understanding their multifaceted influence is crucial for stakeholders across the auto industry and the larger US economy.
Domestic Industry Impact
To appreciate the modern impact of imports, it's essential to review the historical context of the US auto industry. After World War II, the "Big Three" automakers of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler dominated the American market with over 90% domestic market share.
However, this changed in the late 1980s as Japanese automakers like Toyota, Honda, and Nissan aggressively expanded their US presence. By 1990, the Big Three's combined market share fell below 80% for the first time.
Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, imports steadily gained ground while Detroit automakers struggled with quality and manufacturing issues. The financial crisis of 2008 dealt a severe blow, forcing GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy.
The Big Three Today
Today, the Big Three command only around 50% of US new vehicle sales. The rise of global automakers like Toyota, which recently surpassed GM as the top-selling brand in America, demonstrates the profound industry shift caused by imports.
While imports have taken market share, their effect on overall US auto production has been more nuanced. Domestic automakers have closed many US plants and cut hundreds of thousands of jobs over the decades.
However, increased competition has also spurred restructuring, with the Big Three adopting lean manufacturing techniques and improving quality. Global automakers have also located more production within the United States, including plants owned by Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW. Over 10 million autos are built annually by foreign and domestic nameplates across American factories.
The Importance of Restructuring
In the face of import competition, the Detroit automakers have had to undertake difficult but necessary restructuring for long-term survival. Their reduced market dominance no longer guarantees profits.
Although painful adjustments occurred, increased competition has ultimately made the domestic auto industry more robust and more globally competitive over the long run. Manufacturing employment has stabilized in recent years as well.
While imports disrupted the industry, they also catalyzed positive change, forcing American nameplates to modernize.
The growing availability of imported vehicles has delivered substantial gains for American car buyers. With more choice comes downward pressure on prices industrywide.
After accounting for inflation, consumers now enjoy lower average new car transaction prices compared to decades past. Import competition encourages automakers to load vehicles with more standard features and technology to justify prices.
Cost savings emerge from various fronts. Automakers operate on global platforms, gaining scale economies by producing the same models across borders. This lowers per-unit manufacturing costs compared to solely domestic operations.
Further, non-domestic nameplates have often pursued aggressive discounts and incentives to gain market share from the onset. Their expansion created price competition that directly benefits consumers in real terms.
Diversity in the Auto Industry
Vehicle diversity has vastly increased as well. Beyond basic economy cars, consumers can choose from an abundance of sedans, coupes, sports cars, SUVs, trucks, and more with every imaginable powertrain configuration. Niche models catering to smaller customer segments flourish thanks to expanded imports.
Special editions, retro-styled "heritage" cars, and limited-run collector's items that otherwise may not enter the US. Consumers find exclusive models only offered abroad now available stateside through the import channel.
The Latest Technology
Technological spillovers occur from foreign competition. Automakers continuously race to deploy the latest safety, infotainment, and driver-assist features. This speeds the adoption of innovations like backup cameras, autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and over-the-air update capability into the broader market through new vehicle introductions and refresh cycles.
Overall, imports have enriched choice while stimulating quality, affordability, and innovation factors vital to consumer welfare over the long run.
Beyond industry effects, vehicle imports play an integral role in the broader US economy through trade and associated activity.
According to the US Census Bureau, America imports over $179 billion of passenger vehicles annually, making it the largest category of imported goods. These transactions generate substantial export sales and jobs abroad through international commerce that supports American consumers' interests at home.
In summary, vehicle imports have profoundly reshaped the US automotive industry since the 1980s while delivering extensive consumer benefits.
Global competition spurred legacy automakers in Detroit to embrace modern manufacturing techniques and become leaner, higher-quality competitors. Imports established new brand diversity at lower transaction prices with cutting-edge technology and engineering that consumers demand.
Today, the domestic auto industry relies on balanced international trade. It remains internationally competitive through exports, ongoing investments from overseas automakers, and integrated continental supply networks.
However, if fully implemented, import restrictions through aggressive tariff policies threaten higher costs, job losses, and economic damage. While some import limits aim to shield vulnerable sectors, unilateral protectionism rarely succeeds and often generates far broader costs.
A balanced perspective recognizes that most stakeholders now gain from liberalized commerce that boosts consumer choice, innovation, and a globally competitive domestic industry.
A1 Auto Transport understands the vital role of imported cars in the American automotive landscape. With millions of vehicles crossing international borders each year, transportation is critical to the vehicle import supply chain.
Whether you've purchased a car overseas or are looking to import your vehicle to a new location in the US, A1 Auto Transport can safely and reliably deliver your automotive purchase anywhere in the country. For over 25 years, we have opened global markets to US consumers by shipping millions of imported cars coast-to-coast through our nationwide network.
Let our team of experienced auto transport experts handle the logistics so you can focus on enjoying your new international ride.
Get a free quote now!