According to World’s Top Exports (www.worldstopexports.com), an independent education and research website, the United States imported $173.3 billion in automobiles in 2016. The top 10 countries that sent cars to the US, with the total dollar amount and percentage change from 2015 were:
1. Canada: $45.9 billion (up 0.5%)
2. Japan: $40 billion (up 3.1%)
3. Mexico: $24.1 billion (up 35.5%)
4. Germany: $22.3 billion (down -6.4%)
5. South Korea: $16.4 billion (up 49.9%)
6. United Kingdom: $8.9 billion (up 95.3%)
7. Italy: $4.2 billion (up 320.1%)
8. Sweden: $1.8 billion (up 123.2%)
9. Slovakia: $1.6 billion (up 79.6%)
10. South Africa: $1.5 billion (down -20.5%)
Sitting solidly at number four, German imports enjoy a large following among American automotive enthusiasts. That country’s flagship makes -- which are BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volkswagen, and Porsche -- have legions of fanatical devotees. Why is that? Let’s take a look.
While nearly all those manufacturers have been exporting to the US since World War II, it’s safe to say that it was Volkswagen that put German imports firmly in the minds of Americans. Starting in the 1950s, those iconic bugs began buzzing around US roadways, gathering up thousands of rabid fans along the way. Followed by the Type 2, or Transporter—commonly known as the microbus—Volkswagen’s utilitarian offerings owned the German import market for many years, selling millions of units.
The others -- BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, and Audi -- all addressed a more upscale market, and until the arrival of Japanese competition from Infiniti, Lexus and Acura (divisions of Nissan, Toyota, and Honda, respectively) defined the import luxury segment.
But what is it about German cars that capture American’s loyalty? In 2012, Fortune Magazine posed that question and came up with ten reasons, Here are the top five:
1. They’ve been doing it longer. Germans have been making cars longer than anyone else. In fact, the internal combustion engine was first patented by Karl Benz in 1879 and seven years later got a patent for his first automobile.
2. They’re racy. From their very inception, companies like Mercedes, Porsche and BMW have been heavily involved in racing, both as a proving ground for their machines and as a way to promote their brands.
3. They’ve got amazing roads. Germany is known for its Autobahn, that famous road network with its famous one-time lack of a speed limit. That pushed manufacturers to design cars that could keep up.
4. Strong branding. Fortune concluded that one reason is that German car makers have worked tirelessly to build their images. The magazine specifically cites their “clarity, commitment, authenticity and relevance.”
5. Well, they make ‘em better. Simply put, “German Engineering” has become a buzz phrase that means high tech, high design, and high quality. That all adds up to a perception that cars from Germany are superior to those from other countries, including the US.
Sure, there are plenty of drivers who remain loyal to Italian, Japanese, Swedish, American and English automobiles. But there’s a certain cache to German cars that resonates with quality- and performance-minded American drivers.