Jeep’s Very, Very Stupid Commercial

July 15, 2010

A new ad for the Jeep Grand Cherokee is in heavy rotation. The SUV may be a winner, but the language used to hawk it is pathetic.

“The things that make us Americans are the things we make,” explains a voiceover. Skyscrapers, cotton gins, Colt revolvers, and Jeep 4x4s, we are told, “make us who we are.”

Some might quibble with that claim. Aren’t the Bill of Rights, representative government, and rugged, profit-seeking individualism more ontologically relevant to the American experience than a list of widely recognized inventions and products?

Let’s leave that debate for another day. The commercial goes on to swoon over the Grand Cherokee, which “was imagined, drawn, carved, stamped, hewn, and forged here in America.”

Okay, great. Jobs are pretty hard to come by in the Age of Obama.

It is Jeep’s concluding pitch that veers into hard-core economic illiteracy: “This was once a country where people made things, beautiful things, and so it is again.”

It will come as news to millions of American manufacturing workers that until the arrival of a redesigned Grand Cherokee, the nation no longer made things -- much less “beautiful things.”

Jeep’s attempt to tap into what NPR called “industrial nationalism” might be good marketing, but by playing to paranoiacs’ “deindustrialization” shibboleth, it slanders the truly impressive output of a sector of the economy that is in no way dying.

In Mad About Trade: Why Main Street America Should Embrace Globalization, Daniel Griswold uses data from the Federal Reserve Board to show that between 1980 and the dawning of the Great Recession, U.S. manufacturing volume more than doubled. Looking at it another way, our manufacturing alone is bigger than the GDPs of both France and the United Kingdom.

There is one reason why the myth of a manufacturing decline persists: productivity gains. Every day, a dwindling number of people churn out machinery, metals, IT components, chemicals, and transportation equipment. That’s because automation, digital technology, better training, and right-to-work laws empower factories to do more with less.

“Rising productivity is not a mark of weakness in U.S. manufacturing but of strength,” Griswold writes. “In fact, rising productivity is the essence of economic progress and competitiveness.”

Try making that argument to Sinophobes, protectionists and the industrial-policy lobby. Their fearmongering campaign got a boost with recent coverage of speculation that 2011 will see China surpass America as the world’s largest manufacturer.

It’s inevitable that a developing country with over 1.3 billion hardworking, capitalism-friendly souls will soon reign as manufacturing’s champ. But on the day that China seizes the title, the U.S. will remain a major industrial power.

Americans have always been inventors, tinkerers, and gearheads. It’s how they are able to produce things like the Vector 1800MT transport refrigeration unit. Built by Carrier, a division of global behemoth United Technologies, the cooler “is 20 percent more fuel efficient and emits 20 percent fewer particulates in the fuel burning process compared with its previous product line.”

With fission back in fashion, engineers at Westinghouse have designed a better nuclear plant. The company’s AP1000 pressurized water reactor is winning contracts at home and abroad. Cheaper, easier to operate, with a simpler design and many safety improvements, the AP1000 can power 700,000 homes. (A smaller version, the AP300, is under consideration.)

Business is so strong, Westinghouse has partnered with Hutchinson Manufacturing to create NuCrane, which will assemble “large cranes primarily for the U.S. [nuclear-plant] market.” The company has opened a 51,000-square-foot, 56-foot-high crane factory in Minnesota.

Another product America makes, but most consumers never encounter, is satellites. Palo Alto-based Loral has sold orbital telecommunications platforms to DIRECTV, Dish Network, Intelsat, SatMex, Globalstar, Telesat, and Sirius XM Radio. Its satellites might one day be sent toward the heavens by Space Exploration Technologies, a launch-vehicle startup also based in California. SpaceX’s rockets are made from primarily U.S.-manufactured parts. Last month the company won a $492 million contract to loft a replacement constellation of satellites for Iridium Communications.

Additional anecdotes aren’t difficult to find. Semiconductor giant Intel has launched a two-year, $7 billion upgrade of its facilities in New Mexico, Arizona, and Oregon. Massachusetts-based Kiva Systems is selling hundreds of robots that work in the dark, performing “automated order fulfillment” for warehouses. An aging population is presenting a myriad of opportunities for medical-device makers.

Ignore the union propaganda. Disregard politicians’ posturing. And hit the “mute” button when Jeep’s hackneyed economic patriotism interrupts your viewing of “SportsCenter.”

Just as America never stopped growing things, America never stopped making things. Beautiful things.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) is a writer, commentator and lecturer. He lives in Connecticut.

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