Once upon a time, there was a clear line in the sand: you either drove an American-made automobile or a foreign model. Ford and Chevrolet were designed and manufactured in the states, while Honda and Toyota were produced in Japan. If you wanted power and strength, you bought American. For efficiency and long-term reliability, Japanese autos were the way to go. That line in the sand is no longer so clearly defined.
Manufacturing vehicles these days is a whole different animal compared to how it was just a few decades ago. Distinctly American brands now outsource segments of their operations to other parts of the world while many previously-foreign automakers have established facilities in the United States. Not only does this call into question what truly qualifies as a domestic or foreign vehicle, but it also impacts the expected costs of ownership.
Closing the Gap
As production has become somewhat more consistent throughout the world, so have the characteristics and features of the automobiles themselves. For example, Ford and Chevy have made clear efforts in recent years to offer greater fuel efficiency and durability in their vehicles. Meanwhile, Japanese brands have been more willing to produce larger trucks and SUVs in response to the demand for more spacious transportation options.
The results have largely benefited consumers, who now tend to keep their cars longer on average. IHS Automotive estimates the average age of passenger cars and trucks on the road to be 11.5 years—roughly one month older than when measured the year previous. This trend continues to grow as automakers raise the bar regarding reliability.
The Cost of Maintenance
While vehicles are clearly better engineered and built to last longer, they do require more maintenance than they once did. Due to the consolidation of parts into component units, the number of parts on a vehicle decreases each year. However, this means that part costs have gone up dramatically, which provides additional motivation to maintain them.