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What defines a car’s nationality, Batty asks

Published: 04 December 2008

CAR Online reader Batty ponders what gives a car a national flavour. 

It is perhaps a generalisation, but national characteristics are often equally attributed (and equally stereotypically) to cars as they are to that nation's citizens. My question therefore is this. What defines your car’s nationality?

Is it where the car is made? Then the ridicule that often (as unwarranted as it is) that is attributed to the quality and global relevance of American cars can be equally applied to BMW’s X5 and X6? To the Mercedes M-class as well? Are they spared the sniggers because they are based on German designs?

So do we decide that it is the point of design that determines the products nationality? Then what becomes of the Toyota Tundra? Is that American or Japanese? Is the flair of the French car lessened when manufactured in Britain, or does the brio of an Italian model translate equally well into Polish? When Suzuki manufactures in Europe (although outside the EEC), are they then better than their Japanese counterparts or worse?

If we consider then that the design centre is paramount, is the overarching company philosophy all persuasive? The Toyota iQ is designed and made in Europe, yet, to all the world it is still a Japanese car. Why is this? Why does the Rolls-Royce although substantially engineered, built and manufactured in Germany still maintain the sense of being British? Why do Ford and Vauxhall/Opel still have such patriotic supporters in Britain and Germany when both are owned by an American concern, and are the same models for both markets?

My belief is that it is the history that makes the car’s nationality. These nascent manufacturers were nurtured and supported in their native countries and the hopes and pride of those nations were painted onto their success or failure with passion. When Ferrari win, Italy win. When Toyota became the largest manufacturer in the world, Japan wins.

So they become the unofficial flag bearers for their countries. In Ford’s case, their ability to infuse local culture into their product lines so early on was a masterstroke. No other manufacturer has replicated this since with anything near their success. Vauxhall and Opel gain their nationality by default of their beginnings as a local maker.

If the above hypothesis is true, is it any wonder then that the US market are turning their a back on their fallen heroes? After all, dropping a nation's flag and allowing it to tatter in such a public and unseemly manner, does nothing for a nation's pride.

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By Batty

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