There is hardly an industry out there that hasn’t become multinational on some level. Even local businesses rely on the intricate network of industry participants to operate. In this view, the automotive industry is the rule because every make and model draws from the same international manufacturing well. I’m not only speaking about the components that are so popular to complain about (“This cheap garbage made in [any third world country]!”), and it isn’t only production that has abolished borders. Cars and trucks sold in the US are made in numerous other countries, even the domestic brands. In the same vein, domestic brand vehicles are marketed quite heavily overseas. Corporate capital has long ignored national borders (as noted quite regularly by Noam Chomsky) and so it should come as no surprise that the myth of the purely “American company” is steadily fading into memory. What this means is that employees in the auto industry are increasingly being confronted with foreign coworkers, and this steadily transforming workplace requires a significant paradigm shift.
This shift in perspective (I won’t use “paradigm” again, I know it’s become cliché) involves the frequent confrontation between cultures. The most common instance of this is hardly an auto industry staple, being the outsourced telephone support center. The “support center” icon is a fascinating topic of discussion in its own right, but its contribution to this train of thought is that it is indicative of the direction that corporations are heading as more and more components of the production and support mechanism can be replaced by less costly options in other regions of the globe. There has been much theory and analysis devoted to this phenomenon of the American consumer getting tech support from “Dave” in New Delhi. This scenario is becoming more frequent, and just in the last two years General Motors has included its internal support network in this expansion, so that some of the communications I have with the corporation are done through an outsourced mediator.
But “Dave” is being forced into the American mold, not the other way around… yet. The economic forecast is looking toward a more symbiotic relationship with foreign counterparts, which means that it will no longer be adequate to speak exclusively a native language. This is far from negative. Even though America is the leader of the free world, as the world gets freer (economically, of course, in no way am I saying that democracy is spreading as quickly as international capital), it steadily moves closer to realizing that, in the eyes of the dollar, all countries are equal. This means that increased cultural awareness and sensitivity are a primary concern for the internationally comprised corporation.
When I began my training for this job several years ago, I was startled to learn that I had to take several courses in minority markets. While I saw this as corporate sanctioned racial profiling, taking the courses gave me important insight into the mind of the corporation. The classes were aimed at training personnel who could capitalize on what they considered quantifiable cultural data. There was no inherent bigotry on the part of the company (though reducing customers to racial stereotypes is a ludicrously dangerous tool to put in the hands of the kinds of employees they hoped to inculcate, e.g. “Hello, sir! I see you’re Asian, can I interest you in [I can’t remember what GM thinks Asians like]?”). What I extracted from the classes was that the archetypal consumer can be analyzed, but he or she must be approached as a unique multiplicity of characteristics and histories.
The future of the auto industry, just like the future of all industries, is global. There is no way to thrive beyond that horizon without all participants understanding how to navigate the wide network of international discourses. The science of automotive technology is already international, with hardly a vehicle being produced that isn’t made from a dozen countries’ factories and headed across some international border (there are domestic cars being produced on the same assembly line as foreign makes, e.g. the Toyota Matrix and the Pontiac Vibe, like twins who switch clothes to throw people off). The aspect of the industry that will increasingly require transcendence of provincial discourse is the distribution and maintenance of products. This will one day move beyond a capital benefit and become an economic imperative.