The 80s were a dark era for American business interests as revolutionary improvements in quality gave Japan Inc. a competitive advantage in everything from consumer electronics and computer chips to automobiles and telecommunications systems.
I’m pretty familiar with how painful that was, since I worked for Dallas-based Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) when NEC knocked overtook us to become the world’s top chipmaker.
American consumers were faced with a tough dilemma back then. If they wanted a better product, they had to buy Japan. Washington tried to stem the tide by introducing tariffs on Japanese cars, for example, but discerning buyers opted to pay more rather than own an inferior product.
The good news is that was a very long time ago, as my bathroom mirror insists on reminding me on a daily basis. Japan is no longer the competitive threat it once was, U.S. carmakers have come roaring back from the brink and Silicon Valley dominates in technology.
Across a wide range of industries, products made in American are now competitive if not best in class when compared with those from China, South Korea and even Europe. And yet, far too many of us could care less where the products we buy are made. It’s downright un-American.
Look, I’m not trying to be judgmental here. It’s one thing to reluctantly leave the fold for a better, higher quality, or unique product or because you simply can’t afford the price differential. I get that. But a lot of consumers are buying from overseas companies for all the wrong reasons.
Personally, I think far too many of you are willfully blind to the fact that foreign products are often cheaper because their companies pay workers peanuts, copy our designs and steal our intellectual property. None of which will score them or you any Karma points, if you ask me.
The most glaring example has got to be consumer electronics and computing. Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) products are clearly the benchmark, hands down. And while iPhone’s U.S. market share is over 40%, that means more than half of you are buying inferior products from Asian companies. Why? To save a buck? Come on now, the price differential for a phone doesn’t even register when compared with service fees and everything else.
Besides, the way Apple’s market share is skyrocketing in South Korea and China (33% and 27% respectively according to the latest data), before long, iPhone will be more popular on Samsung and Xiaomi’s home turf than it is here. And please, don’t nitpick that Apple’s phones are assembled in China. Everything else happens here and its U.S. ecosystem is off the charts.
As for the automobile industry, I love that so many Japanese cars are made here now. And while I admit that Mercedes and Toyota are consistently rated higher than the pack in terms of customer satisfaction, American automakers have done a great job of closing the gap. Simply put, we’re making much, much better cars now than we used to.
That said, Hyundai and Kia rank seventh and eighth in U.S. market share. Considering the South Korean market has been all but closed to foreign carmakers until recently, that’s just flat out embarrassing. What’s even more embarrassing is that I actually have friends who own Hyundais. Where’s their self-respect?
On the home front, American companies make some of the best home appliances on the planet. I know that because my wife is in the culinary field and she designed our kitchen. From Wolf ranges and Sub-Zero refrigerators to KitchenAid mixers and Vitamix blenders, they’re impressive machines.
Don’t even get me started on my outdoor Lynx and Weber grills. Absolutely the best. We also have a few Bosch appliances but they’re all either made or assembled here. OK, I’ll admit that my espresso machine is made in Italy. So sue me.
While a German company, Stihl, makes hands down the best chainsaws and other assorted outdoor power tools, at least they’re built in the U.S. And in my experience, American-made hand tools and hardware last longer than their Made in China counterparts so they’re worth an extra buck or two.
I can go on about construction materials, furniture, even locally grown produce, but I think you get the point. We don’t make everything better here but, if American goods are comparable and competitive we owe it – not just to ourselves but to each other – to think and buy American.