About five years ago I woke up one day with the realization that any purchase I make directly impacts people in my neighborhood, my town, my state. Plus, I expected and hoped my fellow Michiganders would choose to shop in my stores, support charities I believe in and otherwise contribute to the well-being of our community – but I didn’t behave the same way in return. My purchases weren’t governed by a local-business-first focus, looking for the quality, service or selection in products made close to home before turning to sources from afar, because I didn’t believe one person could make a difference.
I was wrong.
My epiphany came as I stood on slick-top pavement in a moon-lit night, waiting for my car after a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
I stood with General Motors Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz, watching foreign car after foreign car drive away into the rain-slicked night. He turned to me as those foreign luxury vehicles peeled out of the parking lot and said, “How many people realize that when they buy an American luxury vehicle, they’re providing work for a dozen people for at least a week?”
Before then, I hadn’t felt in my bones the direct connection between the car I drive and the people in my hometown being in, or out, of a job. Many of my friends had told me so, but I didn’t listen – friends from other countries, shaking their heads in disbelief at the thought of neglecting one’s homeland.
I see it now.
And I feel it in my heart.
It struck me that night that I expected all of these people to support my local causes – ALS of Michigan for one – with their presence and their pocketbooks . Why didn’t I expect the same from them with regard to the place that gave us life and ensured our freedom of consumer choice?
I don’t even remember what kind of car I was driving, but the next day I bought a Cadillac STS and loved it. All of my preconceived notions that foreign cars were better-made and were longer-lasting, well, they proved untrue.
As a son of the Motor City, I can honestly say that for years, I found it easy to look across the ocean and see nothing bad in a car born overseas– a rose-colored view of the exotic promise of a place I didn’t know the texture of or the smells. I can describe the air-clear scent of the Detroit River and the open-sky echo of children on a summer day on Belle Isle, but I couldn’t tell you about the rapid plod of workers’ footsteps in a Korean, German, Bavarian or Japanese town or the series of sunset hues in their dusk.
Intimacy doesn’t always breed loyalty. In my own backyard, I could hurl the easiest accusations, based on nothing factual at all, and believe them true.
It’s harder to see a beautiful thing from close up.
My Cadillac is a superior vehicle in every way. Yes, I feel duty-bound and even intellectually-motivated to buy American, but I have to say that I buy American cars first and foremost because I know I’m getting a great product crafted by hands I know and with whom I share a destiny.
Plus, as I drive down the road, I feel like I’m part of a secret society of people taking care of one another.
Of course, any car you buy locally and drive off a lot owned by a guy who lives on your block means you’re in some way supporting local commerce. Still, it’s infinitely compelling to know that 100% of the car I drive was created, assembled and finessed just a few miles from where I live. Dozens of Michiganders took part in the creation of my vehicle, from concept to the moment I drove it off the lot.
American cars have a long illustrious history. It’s OUR history, for we come from a place of innovation and belief in the discovery, invention and possibility of great things.