When President Reagan’s “Prouder, Stronger, Better” campaign ad debuted in 1984 — with the memorable opening line “It’s morning again in America” — just a few foreign automakers were building cars in the U.S.
Now, there are nearly a dozen with factories operating or under construction in the U.S. And in an unprecedented move last week, a group of them banded together for a TV ad that invokes the “morning in America” theme to proclaim their contribution to the American manufacturing base and exports.
The ad, which debuted on the June 4 “Meet the Press,” came from the Association of Global Automakers and prominently features the factories, workers and logos of Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen, Subaru, Hyundai, Kia and Nissan, plus lots of American flags.
The ad sounds upbeat themes, but reflects the anxiety among automakers, both foreign and domestic, about a political climate in which the roles of foreign brands and foreign labor are under scrutiny from President Trump and his administration. It comes ahead of a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has undergirded global automakers’ production strategies on the continent for more than two decades and led to a massive expansion of automaking capacity in the American South as well as Mexico.
“Given the importance of upcoming public policy decisions being made, we wanted to be sure that decision makers recognized us as broad and vibrant and global,” Global Automakers CEO John Bozzella told Automotive News. The group represents 12 international automakers, including six of the seven behind the campaign.
Trump’s campaign rhetoric was especially tough on U.S. manufacturers such as Ford that had set up factories in Mexico to build products for the U.S. market. Since his election, he has expanded his range of targets, citing Toyota for its planned factory in Mexico and recently criticizing German automakers for selling too many cars in the U.S., even though Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Volkswagen all have significant manufacturing operations here.
The ad, Bozzella said, was an effort to clarify the record.
“The key here is we have to make sure that the policy decisions before us are made the right way,” Bozzella said. “It’s important that policy makers recognize where the industry is today.”
According to Global Automakers, international automakers have invested more than $75 billion in U.S. operations, with $63 billion invested since NAFTA took effect in 1994. Today, 10 foreign automakers produce vehicles in the U.S., which will bump to 11 when Volvo begins production in South Carolina in 2018.
The “Morning in America” spot features assembly line footage and workers for different brands hoisting the American flag. A narrator starts with the same “morning in America” phrase and concludes with, “thanks to trade and open markets, our auto industry is stronger, prouder and better than ever before. Why would we ever want to return to a time of less competition and less choice for consumers?”
The ad was produced under Global Automakers’ Here For America initiative, which was created three years ago to educate the public on the importance of foreign automakers to the U.S. economy. It’s the first time the campaign has produced a television commercial.
“This is a new step for us,” Bozzella said. “It was timely and relevant to move to this level of communication and that’s kind of where we are. We think it’s really required to support the messages and engagements that our companies are having with key decision makers.”
The national campaign will continue to air for the next few weeks on Fox News and MSNBC on shows including “Fox and Friends” and “Morning Joe.”