Fewer Americans Set on Buying Foreign Cars

by Lydia Saad

Older consumers remain strongest supporters of U.S. car brands

PRINCETON, NJ -- In their car purchasing decisions, Americans are now less likely to show exclusive loyalty to foreign brands than they were in the recent past. Six percent in a March 4-7 Gallup survey say they would consider only foreign makes when buying a car, compared with 12% in February 2009 and 15% in December 2008. Meanwhile, the percentage who would consider only American cars has leveled off after showing gains from 2008 to 2009.

Car Buying Preferences -- American vs. Foreign

Gallup first asked Americans about their car-buying preferences as the government was considering a bailout of the struggling U.S. automakers in late 2008, and in its February 2009 update found a slight bump in the percentage of Americans who would consider American cars exclusively. The latest update shows no further momentum in Americans' commitment to domestic cars, but as Japanese automaker Toyota struggles with safety issues, Gallup finds a significant drop in the percentage of Americans who would exclusively consider imports. The remainder of Americans (57%) say they would consider both foreign and domestic brands when making a car purchase.

Younger Adults Steering Toward U.S. Brands

The decline in preference for foreign cars is especially pronounced among young adults, dropping from 20% to 7% since December 2008. This group, aged 18 to 34, had previously been the most likely to say they would consider only foreign brands when making an auto purchase; today, however, Gallup finds few Americans of any age group feeling that way.

Trend in Preference for Buying Only Foreign Brand Cars, by Age

A corollary finding is that young adults are significantly more likely today than in December 2008 to say they would consider only American brands -- 29% versus 19%. By contrast, a surge in "buy American" sentiment seen among middle-aged adults a year ago has tapered off somewhat in the latest poll.

Trend in Preference for Buying Only American Brand Cars, by Age

Despite these changes, older adults remain the most loyal to U.S. car companies, with 45% saying they would consider only American brands, vs. 32% of middle-aged adults and 29% of younger adults.

Car Buying Preferences, by Age

Preference for American Autos Still Skews Downscale

Among income groups, willingness to rule out foreign car brands is highest among households earning less than $30,000 per year (46%) and lowest among those earning at least $75,000 (24%). However, over the past 15 months, most of the increase in loyalty to U.S. car brands is seen among middle-income households. Among this group, willingness to purchase only American cars rose from 26% in December 2008 to 37% in March 2009, and it remains at about that level today (39%).

At the same time, all income groups have become less likely to say they would consider only foreign cars.

Trend in Preference for Buying Only Foreign Brand Cars, by Income

Bottom Line

Although the economic downturn has been devastating to the U.S. auto industry -- bringing it to the brink of collapse barely a year ago -- the silver lining for Detroit is that the crisis has helped draw Americans' attention to its cars. And because Americans like what they have seen, or because they feel more compelled to support American brands, or perhaps because of Toyota's highly publicized safety problems, Americans are showing a greater willingness to put themselves behind the wheel of an American vehicle.

This is apparent in the February market data showing new car sales at Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors up compared to a year ago. It is also evident in Gallup polling showing more Americans willing to look at an American brand for their next car purchase. Currently, 93% of Americans say they would either consider American cars along with foreign cars, or consider only American cars. That's up from 87% in February 2009 and 82% in December 2008.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with a random sample of 1,014 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 4-7, 2010. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

In General, When Making a Decision About Getting a New Car, Would You Only Consider American, Consider American and Foreign, or Only Consider Foreign Cars?

Trend in Preferences for Buying a New Car -- by Age

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