Is American Auto Based on a True Story?

NBC’s comedy-drama series ‘American Auto’ focuses on those working at the headquarters of the Detroit-based Payne Motors. Already struggling to keep up with a fast-changing industry, the employees at the car company tackle novel challenges after a new CEO, Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer), takes charge. However, the comical problem is that Hastings barely knows anything about the automobile industry.

Created by Justin Spitzer, the workplace drama expertly exploits the issues faced by the automobile industry in order to score laughs. By using contemporary notions related to corporations and their public images, the sitcom humorously explores the intricacies of the power dynamics that exist both inside and outside the office space. Naturally, many fans are curious to know if this car company and its employees are elements taken from real life. Let’s find out if ‘American Auto’ is based on a true story!

Is American Auto a True Story?

No, ‘American Auto’ is not based on a true story. However, it is true that the show borrows certain elements for its fictional premise from reality. For example, it seems as though the 100-year-old family-owned Payne Motors is loosely based on the legendary Ford Motor Company; the founder, Henry Ford, built his first-ever car in Detroit in 1896 and later introduced the automotive assembly line. In fact, Ford is partially the reason why Detroit is known as Motor City.

Image Credit: Greg Gayne/NBC

It thus isn’t surprising that this comedy-drama revolving around a car company is set in the Automobile Capital of the World. In particular, the sitcom focuses on the corporate environment at Payne Motors. “I pitched this show [‘American Auto’] back in 2013. I’d been on ‘The Office’ for a long time, and I thought I’d love to do a workplace show about the corporate world,” revealed Spitzer during a virtual Television Critics Association (TCA) panel in 2021. “And then, the following year, I did ‘Superstore.’ ‘American Auto’ was in pilot at that point, so I took bits and pieces, and put them in ‘Superstore.’”

Explaining the reasoning behind the premise of the show, Spitzer stated, “I wanted to do a corporate workplace show. It wasn’t the auto aspect that brought me in. I felt like I just wanted a little more specificity, and I wanted to change up the industries and I wanted it to just be a very big, American, relatable kind of company.” Thus, by using Detroit as the backdrop, the show immediately taps into the public’s common knowledge of the automobile industry, which is enough to understand the character’s motivations and decisions.

The show, using exaggerations and comically blown-up scenarios, dives deep into the troubles faced by those at Payne Motors. Hastings is talented but hails from the pharmaceutical industry; naturally, an array of hilarious situations are created thanks to her attempts to understand the new sector she’s in.

Image Credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC

The show also touches upon how corporates often mess up when it comes to socio-political issues, such as racism, and then hurriedly and imperfectly try to fix the situation. Thus, we see Hastings and the others trying to deal with a self-driving car that detects white pedestrians and not people of color because only white cardboard cut-outs were used for testing when the vehicle was developed.

All in all, ‘American Auto’ is not based on a true story; however, it takes common elements from our everyday reality to make sure that the humor comes through. Those who have worked in a corporate environment will immediately relate to the scenarios the show’s fictional characters constantly find themselves in, and the backdrop of Detroit’s automotive industry ensures that Hastings and the others are firmly rooted in an industry everyone recognizes, appreciates, and occasionally criticizes.

Read More: Where Is American Auto Filmed?