Manufacturing Supercars in America

Wolf Richter's picture

Wolf Richter

Supercar enthusiasts went into a tizzy when Honda announced at the Detroit auto show that it would bring its Acura NSX back to life. And not only that. Design would be shifted from Japan to Honda’s Center of Research and Development in Ohio. Manufacturing would be shifted to Ohio as well. And a portion of the production would be exported. While the NSX won’t add much volume to Honda’s production in the US, it will be a technology showcase. And another precursor that the math of manufacturing in America is changing.

The mid-engine NSX was built by hand in Japan from 1990 to 2005. Of the 18,000 units produced during its 15-year production run, half landed on our shores. It won accolades from the automotive press, including “Best sports car ever built” by Motor Trend in 1991—though it had a smallish engine by supercar standards and wasn’t as fast as some of its brethren. Honda also built racing versions, the NSX-R and NSX-R GT. And in an epic product placement success, the NSX was featured in the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction.

Now the next generation will be designed and built in the US. There have been other recent examples of automakers announcing that they would shift export-oriented production to the US—for two-edged economic reasons.

The weak dollar. It’s particularly alluring for Japanese manufacturers as they’re struggling with the strong yen. In that respect, the war that the Fed has waged on the dollar is paying off, so to speak, though it made life more expensive for Americans by inflating prices of imports, including oil and consumer products. Even the euro, despite its gargantuan crisis, is hovering in the middle of its trading range against the dollar.

Low wages. Since 2000, inflation-adjusted wages have declined by around 10%. Even the White House came out with a paper that bragged about declining wages as a force that would boost manufacturing. The paper was addressed to the business community, obviously, and not to the rank and file who bore the brunt of the declining wages. Read.... When The White House Touts Falling Wages.

The logic: American wages in a globalized economy will have to be competitive with wages in low-wage countries. The impact: 49.1 million Americans live in poverty, more than ever, according to the supplemental Census test.

The decline of manufacturing in the US has been a horrid multi-decade saga. Since 2000, another six million manufacturing jobs were lost. The hope is that it bottomed out in 2010, when only 8% of all jobs were still in manufacturing. This graph is from the White House paper. Note the tiny hook at the bottom. That’s the recent upswing.


So maybe the hook is a turning point. Auto manufacturing costs in the US—especially if transportation and other costs are included—have been competitive with those in Europe, Japan, and Korea for a long time, and most major automakers have large production plants in the US. But the new competition isn’t Europe or Japan. Or even Mexico. It’s China. Which begs the question: to what banana-republic levels will real wages still have to sink?

Yet, Honda’s decision to transfer design and manufacturing of its showcase supercar from Japan to the US is significant. The NSX will be produced in small numbers—if history is any guide, between 1,000 and 2,000 vehicles a year. Much of the assembly will be done by hand and will require a highly skilled, productive, and flexible work force. Honda’s decision is a vote of confidence.

By contrast, Honda announced last August that it would build a plant in Mexico able to produce 200,000 subcompacts per year. Nissan made a similar announcement last week. The lure of cheap labor elsewhere is still strong. Apparently, American wages aren’t quite there yet. And for Japan, the NSX decision is another detail in a somber scenario in which the pace of offshoring is gaining momentum.

But life goes on in its crazy manner. A convoy of 20 supercars was speeding down the Ch?goku Expressway and entered a left-hand bend at 90–100 mph. The posted speed limit was 50 mph. The highway was wet. And the rest was very expensive.... Superlative Supercar Pileup (with video).

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arg's picture

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Baptiste Say's picture

Funny to see relatively educated folks of the ZH readership base blame globalisation for the lack of real jobs in the US. Not one of you suggested the real reasons including:
-world's highest corporate tax rates.
-fed created boom & busts.
-fed wiping out citizens savings and purchasing power.
-government (state, local and federal) spending as a percentage of GDP equal to Scandinavian nations but mostly focused on welfare and warfare as opposed to education and infrastructure as in Scandinavia.
-decades long federal level bans on energy exploration.

Thankfully some recognised the atrocious state of education in your country as a culprit but the majority of you sound like typical TV talking heads and reactionary, populist politicians.

rosiescenario's picture

It would be quite useful to know exactly what % of the cost of the vehicle is due to labor. As products are produced with more and more automation, the labor cost shrinks and the cost of the capital needed for the machinery goes up.


Unfortunately, too, for the worker as the automation goes up the skill level needed by the worker goes down.For example, a CNC mill can be fed by any monkey....years ago it would have taken a skilled machinist on a Bridgeport to produce the same item.


I have yet to see an intelligent report outlining how computer controlled manufacturing has both reduced the need for labor and dummied down those are are still needed to feed the machinery.


It appears we are seeing a lowering of our standard of living due to our getting ever smarter on how things are made. Less wages are paid to fewer workers. It has nothing to do with is Darwinian in nature and the trend is unmistakeable.


Here is my very simplistic view of the trend:


First you had those Bridgeport vertical lathes which required a skilled machinist to operate. They were, of course far more efficient than what a blacksmith was previously using.


Next as the personal computer came about, the Bridgeport could now be programmed, the skilled machinist was not needed (except for prototypes and R&D) and any monkey could feed metal into the CNC unit and make tool changes.


After that, a few less monkeys were needed when computers took over the tool changes and the material was machine fed.


So, capital replaced both labor AND the skill level (wages) of that person and the % labor represents of the cost of the finished goods declines. If transportation costs go high enough (oil price) then it will make economic sense to bring manufacturing closer to the end buyer.



AchtungAffen's picture

How long til the first true American cardboard city a-la Haiti to pop up? Free market bitches, and sleeping inside a carboard box of the products slave labour assembles during the day.

JW n FL's picture!

Streetfire TV Episode 15- SSC vs. Veyron & Lamborghini

this Video is here in Palm Beach County..

they all ran out to Moroso.. the SSC and the Mossler share blood lines as the development work for it was done here..

the Tuatara I have never seen run.. not even in a Video. so I can not say one way or the other. Shelby's kid wanted to build it so Dad funded it.. but NO! public runs of the car.. ever? makes me wonder what the Kid is doing to his Fathers Good Name.

Spastica Rex's picture

No relation between Jarod Shelby and Carroll Shelby. My engineer wannabe son has spent some time hanging out at SSC with Jarod Shelby and says the Tuatara has not run yet. The Ultimate Aero was certainly not vaporware, and I suspect the Tuatara will materialize as advertised.

I'm really not into cars - poverty does that - but I find it interesting that these cars are produced here in eastern Washington State. Lot of engineers and high-tech due to Hanford project and clean up.

JW n FL's picture



the NSX is Not! a Super Car..

Lambo's are not either.. and you can add Ferrari to the list of NOT! Super Cars as well. makes Super Cars is a super car.. 1,800 hp (rear wheel no crank case bullshit)

you can find both in the same shop here in Palm Beach County, FL. American Super Car..

more Nelson Motor Work but in an Ultima GTR.. 1,750 Rear Wheel HP..

Bugatti gets in becuase it is the best all around car in the World..

But "SUPER CARS!" are not Ferrari's or even Lambo's! any more.

I could go on but I would rather let some other Car Nutz speak up!

The fastest Car I have ever owned was a CL 55 Renn Tech, thusly my Love for the old owners of AMG is ever lasting!

steve from virginia's picture


More techno-beanery (lies) to save the day. Tomorrow will be zero-point energy, the day after will be something else equally stupid.

People would have work available if the competitiion wasn't robots and finance. When was the last time an American met a flesh-and-blood store cashier rather than a self-scanner? Try to find a carpenter lately? Push '0' on the phone and hear what happens next.

Try to find someone in the world of work -- not credit -- who speaks English and has a set of tools.

Mom-and-Pop businesses are put under by Wal-Mart and Chinese imports. Young people indenture themselves for life to the banks for the chance of jobs that don't exist. The same folks cannot hang a door or install a lamp.

Tech 'solutions' like supercars don't fix anything but make current messes worse. Note to Honda: the party is over. The 'Chrome wheel fuel injected stepping out over the line' era is dead. What Honda needs to figure out is how to shut itself down gracefully as a favor to the human race.

What good is a 'supercar' in the land of speed cameras and no customers with jobs? Auto manufacture -- the prototypical assembly line economy of scale factory enterprise -- is a dinosaur. The cheap fuel that built the industry is gone, what remains is too valuable to waste.

Hello! This is our ongoing, deepening economic crisis.

The shift to vertically integrated, complex, concentrated, just-in-time operations has run its course. What comes next is artisan-craft methods,  distributed production and capital/resource conservation. One way or the other we (surviving) humanoids are going to get there.


Otherwise, none of us gets out of here alive.


spanish inquisition's picture

Let us not forget that much of Japan is a hot zone and will be for the next couple hundred years.

Bartanist's picture

My guess is that we could have real and competitive manufacturing jobs with a reasonable lifestyle today if the people did not have to support the parasitic load of government (at all levels) and financial firms.

adr's picture

Yes Honda will emply an extra 100 people to make the NSX but fire 4000 or mor when production of the Civic goes to Mexico.  The USA is still losing more manufacturing than is created every day. It is only the increased government motors sponsored bullshit that keeps the statistics pointed in the direction the propoganda machine wants.

rsnoble's picture

I was called crazy years ago when I said globalism would ruin our way of life in the US for many. The idea that are wages would have to be "in line" with out countries was an idiotic idea at that time.  Congrats to all the idiots that didn't believe it.  Just long will it be for poverty to be the new norm?  Normal people don't need gov't assistance.  This article is correct: "we aren't quit there yet".

rsnoble's picture

In other words keep reading the finance pages of stories of people going from riches to rags and are now grateful they get more family time.  In the long run it will probably be less family time because no one will have health insurance and our life spans are going to be significantly decreased.  No more lieing around in shitty underwear for 20 years having someone help you, you're now worthless, eat too much, and you just need to die your time's up.

Stuck on Zero's picture

It doesn't matter how low wages go in the United States.  We will still never export anything to the mercantilists.  China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Germany etc. will never allow imports.  These countries have trade policies that protect their own people.  Our government consists of 500+ paid shills for the globalists.

Eeyores Enigma's picture

The only reason banana repubs can have any wages at all, any mfg of STUFF, was because US wages were high enough that we could consume whatever they made.

WHo will be the massive consumer that consumes the STUFF that US makes for $1.00 per hour?

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

EE, I would not buy anything that was made by a physical US citizen. That said, I would buy something made through automation. We could put all of these banana republics out of business if we set up a good automated manufacturing base.

Blue Dingo's picture

For at least 3 decades we have been teaching our children that skilled trades are for dropouts and losers, there will be no manufacturing renaissance until we change our perception of value.

rsnoble's picture

Well apparently skilled trades is for losers because I spent 5 years in an apprenticship, 15 years as a journeyman, have been foreman several times and i've been out of work for 3 years now and so have several other guys I know.

Somehow I get the feeling that we might have our day when things really go south, kinda like the farmers are having now.

There's nothing more frustrating as being talked down to from the likes of nurses.  Seriously........they treat us like fast food workers.  Yeah, your some huge success eh? Send someone home with a $245,000 broken leg and then have your stupid fucking sister in med supplies send them a $5k oxygen bottle and a $10k seat cusion.Don't wanna pay? That's ok we'll just sell your house.  Gonna be funnier than hell when these fucks realize they are also a victim of globalization I know someone right now thats going to India for a hip replacement. Total cost $8,000.00.  Yep, you idiots are going to get yours also. No one is safe. BTW not all med professionals are like that but having done remodels in over 20 hospitals the majority of them that i've ran into think that way.

I'd also like to point out that I could be trained to do their job, but they couldn't do mine in a million years.  Of course I know it's a worthless endeavor, like any other career path in the US right now because like this article said "we just arn't there yet."

If it weren't for people like me these gdam idiots would be living and working in grass fucking huts. No respect whatsoever.

lincolnsteffens's picture

I hope the person going to India for surgery brings a financier with lots of cash. He might need it if the operation stops in mid stream when they bring him around to demand more money before the operation proceeds.

My sympathies to you on being redundant. No one likes to feel useless especially when they have multiple skills as you do.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

I am an unemployed engineer who was fired after being too successful and economic cutbacks. Industry is being run by idiots who are driving it into the ground so they can support their cronies. Problems come, oh we can just ship jobs to China. Yippy ki yah mother fucker!!

Mariposa de Oro's picture

I live and work here:

You might have some luck with this.  I've been here several years and love it.

Taint Boil's picture



I work in the industrial automation field and would second that recommendation for a young person to get into a skilled trades field. Very fulfilling work and you have the sense that you have accomplished something at the end of the day. I am not talking assembly of course but  the people that I work with usually have an associates degree or less and many of them make 100k +/- a few.  Most of the work involves traveling, out of the country and with over time.


Always seems to be plenty of work out of the country – big surprise huh. The funny thing is that most of the foreigners are not stupid but most just don’t have a clue as to how to get it done (I am talking basically the third world type or the close to it) This is where the American comes in and says “Get the fuck out of the way and let me in there” because we need to get this done. Of course I’m not talking the people of Wal-Mart I am talking about the “get it done” crowd – and yes there are still a few of us left.


Did someone here mention castings? When I was in Chrysler Mexico the stamping area had a tooling die break (crack and fall apart). Where did the casting come from??? China!


Edit update:


To all the people who are laid-off or let go …. Look, you need to be doing the actual work and not some “decision maker” who happens to be the “project manager of the day”. Those “educated” fucks are a dime a dozen and they come and go so fast I don’t even bother to remember their names.


Schooling matters but not as much as you think it does. You have to be the guy /gal that is actually doing the work and making the stuff move. I am not tooting my own horn but I have been never laid-off or fired – ever. Why ….. Because I am doing the work and yes, there are times when my hands get dirty.


I know this is hard to believe but Americans are still number 1. The first step is for you to believe in yourself.



trav7777's picture

I have an NSX...not sure I want one made in Ohio

azzhatter's picture

Globalization was always about driving down the middle class to third world standards. Can't wait til the Jeffrey Immelts of the world get kidnapped and murdered like what happens in the third world. You can run but you can't hide.

Shizzmoney's picture

It really is amazing how much shit is put up with from the Neo-Feudal lords of the day. 

I was watching a British show yesterday, "When the West Went Broke", which touted the fact that China is going to "stand tall" because of their "rising middle class".  I mean, in a sense, it was propaganda.  They filmed inside a lighting factory where Chinese workers would work night AND day to make 450 pounds a month (around $694 USD) AFTER OVERTIME, making switchboards for lighting fixures.  The purchasing supervisor, a woman in her late 30's, worked hard (according to her, 120 hour work weeks) for 2.5 years just to PAY for university so she could get her promotion that paid her 15,000 POUNDS A YEAR ($23K).     

Now, I admire hard work.....but that's just fucking ridiculious.  The Chinese people, who I thought were good at math, have just been beaten down by Communist propganda for so long.  At some point, inevitability sets it.  It does everywhere else: sports, nature, even finance.  Why not labor exploitation in Asia, and here in the West (where wgaes are stagnating towards lives that are FAR more extravagant than people in China, who save more with their meager wage so they one day can leave their Neo-Feudal Communist State Corporation)? 

Are people that ignorant NOT to follow their brains and bodies, who at one point, say: "STOP"?

Fiatfan's picture

Any article that uses unadjusted dollars (or any other currency) or government approved adjustment figures is garbage from the start.  Garbage in-garbage out.  No exceptions.  

10%...right! Edit: "Since 2000, inflation-adjusted wages have declined by around 10%."

About a 70% reduction in income per capita (someone has been posting charts regarding this) over the last 20 years.  Retails sales down about 45% since 2005 in real terms.  

Ahhhh, come on.  Things...they are a-changin!

AnAnonymous's picture

Achtually, globalization is what enabled the rise of the middle class, but hey, US citizenism is as US citizens do so...

DoChenRollingBearing's picture

Slightly O/T but not much.

Peru has some 147 brands of cars in their local market.  91 are Chinese brands.

From my blog:

"Japanese brands have 37.6% of the market, Korea 22.9%, China 14.4% and only 11.7% from the USA."

(with original refenrence from the Automotive Association of Peru)

SAT 800's picture

Very interesting statistic. I had no idea.

Sudden Debt's picture


No European cars?!?!.... no safety.... and a new car every 2 years because they all turned into rust...

I can't imagine living in such a country....


no wonder life expectency is so much higher here in Europe compaired to South and North America...

SAT 800's picture

Apparently, you're not quite as smart as I thought you were.

Slewburger's picture

Who gives a fuck,its a niche market, those shitty assembly jobs are a drop in the bucket relatively. Low dollar Porches are made in eastern Europe by Borat's  saggy tit sister. I bet they jumped at the chance to make one of those turds.

Real manufacturing is making something from a piece of stock. This is simple assembly production. Wake me up when Honda/CAT/GM start using domestic casting shops for domestic market's. There is no workmanship in assembly hence no skill and low pay. Case in point Toyota's Tundra assembly plant in San Antonio TX.

Globally Sourced Bitchez!


RockyRacoon's picture

Sure thing.  Foxconn oughta be able to fit a sizable compound inside the city limits of Detroit.   All one-story living quarters, however, due to the new suicide laws enacted by the Romney administration.  We can't have perfectly good workers going to waste.

trav7777's picture

uh...the only people left in Detroit are blacks.  Why would you want to build a factory there?

RockyRacoon's picture

What makes you think the workers will be local?  We've imported everything except people, but that could change drastically.   You have a narrow view, Trav.

ozziindaus's picture

Yes I believe we're at the cusp of a manufacturing renaissance here in the US. Unfortunately, its the same SOB's that exported the jobs in the first place, brought real wages down and collapsed the middle class that will profit and take credit for it. 

Oh regional Indian's picture

Outsourcing SUCKS for everyone. No one but the Corp wins.



falak pema's picture

Outsourcing was invented by the Japs in the 1970s,  after BWoods repeal by RN and concomitant import tariffs against Jap imports.

The Japs created the New Asian giants as surrogates to replace US export zone by a new asian market; a lot of it based on DIRECT investment of Jap Corporations, MITI, or Japan Inc. The Mitsubishi/Mitsui/MArubeni/Hitachi combines. 

That mode of investment kick starts new economies on a good footing. But the US outsourced model, Nike-Walmart-Microsoft-Apple-Call center industry/service slave combinats were not a win-win strategy, like what the Japs did. It was not national infrastructure and core industry building, it was pure neocolonial subcontracted slave labour, and deprivation of labour force at home. 1% + Corpos + Hi-Finance made out big and the people lost on both continents. As for trickle down effects, very limited and precarious. If the name of the game is power concentration into  feudal hands, its a FAIL system from day one. History teaches us that.

That's what we have. So back we go to relocalisation, hopefully ONE DAY, once this ponzi has been deflated, in a context where we have sustainablity and recognition that nation state constructs, if they have to be economically efficient, have to be socially efficient even more so. Its ALL about PEOPLE, a nation state. Not the other way round. Make it people centric, sustainable and eco-efficient. But in that order. 

the tower's picture

I agree... all products should be made in the region where they are consumed... this is the only way to have fair wages and fair prices. 

Shizzmoney's picture

I would love it if one day, an Isolationist President would place a ban on outsourcing.  How AWESOME would that be?  Popcorn eating epic tilt, for sure.

Vampyroteuthis infernalis's picture

When the FIRE economy collapses within the near future, the only growth left over will be a new manufacturing base that will arise from the ashes of a once proud society. This will happen, but after much pain is to be borne by the US population and our politicians wake up to reality.

rsnoble's picture

Things keep heading in the direction they are and the "new mfg base" is going to be building bombs and bullets and living on site with no pay.

Careless Whisper's picture

No one would buy a $150,000 sports car that's hand made -- in Mexico.