At big car companies’ headquarters, does every employee drive that car?

Pretty much. Though some carmakers surveyed did their best to evince a magnanimous spirit toward those woefully misguided employees who might elect to drive a competitive vehicle, one gets the sense that, generally, American autoworkers are, ahem, strongly encouraged to cruise the streets propelled by the hand that signs their paychecks.

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Of course, many autoworkers gladly drive the house brand out of loyalty. General Motors plant communications manager Mary Ann Brown said that after 40 years, she has “blue blood.” “I am extremely loyal to my company. They’re the ones who pay me. I tell people, ‘What is someone going to think if they come to your house and they find a non-GM vehicle in your driveway? What does that tell them? That even though you work there you don’t think their vehicles are worth purchasing?’ ”

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There’s also a sense of pride that comes into play—how many people, after all, can say that they personally built the engine in their car? “We have a lot of Silverados and Sierras in the parking lot,” Brown says. “Then people can say, ‘Yep, the Side Three that’s in the engine, I helped build it.’ I have a middle-aged woman building Corvette engines. She went out and bought an absolutely beautiful Corvette. She’s having a blast with it.” We’ll bet she is.

“I am extremely loyal to my company. They’re the ones who pay me.”

Automakers generally make it easy, too, offering workers attractive discounts and lease deals. Former Chrysler engineer David Tracy fondly recalls the corporate lease program: “It includes maintenance and insurance so you don’t have to worry about tires or oil changes or things like that.”

That’s the carrot. Here’s the stick: In some cases, employees who stray from the brand they build are banished to special, less convenient parking lots—a sort of automotive Siberia. Presumably these subversives have plenty of time to contemplate the error of their ways as they trudge to and from their posts through those long Michigan winters.

Fiat Chrysler is perhaps the most rigid, explicitly earmarking 80 percent of employee parking at corporate HQ for those driving company-made cars, and reportedly slapping parking boots on interlopers who poach proprietary spaces. “We buy what we build and we support our company,” says FCA spokeswoman Jennifer Herman. “The competitive parking policy is an outward expression of these principles.”

Similarly, at certain plants, Ford reserves “premium” parking exclusively for company-made vehicles. Some manufacturers do profess to be more flexible: Japanese carmakers such as Honda and Toyota say they couldn’t care less what you drive or where you park it, so long as you show up for work. Even so, we suspect ambitious autoworkers will consider appearances and choose their cars carefully.

This appears in the July/August 2017 Popular Mechanics

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