What’s “American” About Chrysler?

An office full of people who report to another office in Europe

Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

It’s worth dwelling a bit on the fact that the Bob Dylan “Is there anything more American than America?” ad is an ad for Chrysler, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fiat (a.k.a. Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino) an Italian company. So what’s so American about it?

One could say that Chrysler cars are American because they’re made in America. But they make Volkswagens in Chattanooga, Tenn., and BMWs in South Carolina and Mercedes in Alabama, but those are definitely “German cars.” Although, as it turns out the Germans tend to focus their North American manufacturing efforts on SUVs—a very American kind of vehicle. Nissan is increasingly making its cars in Mexico, and their CEO is French (though he was born in Brazil), but it’s a Japanese company. Globalization and all that.

It’s interesting, at any rate, how different kinds of firms play up their alleged nationalities in different ways and for different purposes. Chrysler evidently hopes that American customers will take some pride in the idea of an “American” car. But you also get some different strategies, like the way Ikea plays up its Swedish origins in the global marketplace, trading on an ideal of Nordic friendliness and practicality. You could easily imagine (Danish) Lego trying something similar, but it doesn’t. Just as German-owned luxury car brands trade on German people’s reputation for precision. But Lexus and Acura don’t really seem to me to trade on roughly similar stereotypes about Japan.*

*Correction, Feb. 3, 2014: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of automaker Acura.