Where did your new car really come from?

01:34, Feb 26 2014
Ford Ranger
MADE IN....?: The Ford Ranger, along with the Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux, are all made in Thailand.

If you're considering buying a new car, does it make a difference to you to know where that car is actually made?

Would you rather buy a Nissan Micra or Hyundai i20 (they're both made in India) or a Suzuki Swift from Japan? That's a Japanese and a South Korean car made in India, versus a Japanese car actually built in Japan.

If you think that's confusing, here comes the world tour.

Would you rather buy the Japanese car from Australia or the Japanese car from Thailand, or the Japanese vehicle from the United Kingdom? All three options are available to you today: Toyota Camry (Australia) versus Honda Accord (Thailand) versus Nissan Dualis or Qashqai (UK) as it is sold here.

Let's say you're fortunate enough to be sitting in a BMW dealership, luxuriating in a 3-Series on the showroom floor. How many sales people do you suppose would correct you if you mentioned casually that you really can tell the difference when a car is made in Germany? (The BMW 3-Series is actually manufactured at BMW's Rosslyn plant in South Africa.)

Replace BMW from this picture, and imagine yourself in an Audi dealership, and poised to drop a healthy six-figure sum on the flagship Q7 SUV. Would you hesitate before signing on the dotted line if someone were to tweet you in that instant that the incumbent car of your dreams was made, not in Germany, but in the Slovak Republic? Can you even point to the Slovak Republic on a map? Can you name two of its next-door neighbours? Volkswagen/Audi has a plant in Bratislava churning out Q7s by the truckload. European? Yes. German? No. The same factory also makes the not-really-German-either Volkswagen Touareg.

If, on this basis you turn to the BMW X5 or the Mercedes-Benz ML-Class instead, as authentically German alternatives, you will be doubly disappointed: the Bavarian Money Waster and the Benz are both made in the United States.

Hypothetically, let's say you're in the hunt for a new ute. Utes are very popular in NZ these days, with the Ranger, Navara, Hilux and Colorado making up four of the country's top 10 vehicles by sales. Say you want something different; something European ... like the Volkswagen Amarok. Something that sets you apart from the rest. This is going to be a good news/bad news story, too: the brand certainly is European, but the vehicle itself is actually manufactured in Argentina. Do you still feel as strongly connected to the Euro cachet-based ideal of buying it?

Let's say you don't, and instead you decide to buy a Japanese ute. After all, the Japanese are the global gurus of mass production. Made in Japan beats made in Argentina in the minds of many. Good luck with that. The insanely popular HiLux and Navara are actually made in Thailand. So is the Ranger and the Colorado, as well as the Triton and the Mazda BT-50. It's almost impossible to find a Japanese ute that's still, well, authentically Japanese.

Perhaps something sexy and diminutive is more your style. Say, the Fiat 500 – a beautiful piece of retro Italian flair there. It's built in Poland, which admittedly is only slightly to the north on the world stage, but poles apart stylistically. Likewise the sexy Renault Megane. That French flair. These days it comes from Turkey. The Audi TT, one of the world's most beautiful cars: Hungary. The Volkswagen Polo? South Africa. And the Peugeot 4007? Japan. (Actually, that might be a step up.)

The big question is: Does it make a difference?

John Cadogan is a mechanical engineer and the editor in chief of CarLoans.co.nz. He says it does, consumers are uninformed.

"The car industry will tell you it doesn't matter where the car is built," he says.

"They'll tell you car factories are complex things, with millions of dollars worth of hi-tech robots, and what really matters is the underlying design and the production quality control. All of this is true – but it's not a complete answer.

"Car companies leverage their brand identities comprehensively in their marketing campaigns; especially the Germans and the Japanese. However, all car companies have had to exploit offshore opportunities to garner commercial advantage. They move their factories close to the primary markets to minimise logistic overheads, and they choose countries in those regions with intrinsically low labour costs.

"A car is a major consumer purchase, and consumers make that purchase based on a set of expectations that might not be true – especially when it comes to country of origin.

"BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat and the Japanese, etc, they don't say 'we've kept the cost down by exploiting the cheap labour we found in South Africa, Argentina, Slovakia, Turkey, Poland or Thailand. They're still quite happy for you to think the car of your dreams is made in Germany, France, Italy or Japan. It's brand perception marketing by false pretenses."

Do you know where the car you're driving right now was made?


Audi Q7.
EUROPEAN? YES. GERMAN? NO: Audi's Q7 SUV flagship is made in the Slovak Republic, not Germany.