Every new car, truck, or SUV that leaves its factory is the product of a global supply chain. From the sheet steel used to make the body to the microchips and video screens in the dashboard, dozens of suppliers obtain parts from hundreds of vendors around the world. It all comes together at the assembly line.
Once upon a time, it was easy to say whether a vehicle was American or an import, but not any more. Today, every major automaker is multi-national, or rather trans-national because the companies build cars in every major market where they are sold. Buick makes the Envision SUV in China because the company sells about four times as many of the midsize vehicle there than the company does in America. Ford makes the Fusion sedan in Mexico and the Transit Connect van in Spain. Ram produces the 2500/3500 HD truck in Mexico. And the system works both ways: Most “imported” brands now build vehicles in the United States for domestic U.S. and international sale. So how do you buy an “American” vehicle these days?
Against this backdrop, we’ve had to redefine what it means to buy an American-made vehicle. For starters, lets take a look at Cars.com, which recently released its annual list of the “most American” cars, trucks, and SUVs on the market in the United States (we last looked at the index back in 2017).
To determine how much of a new vehicle is American-made, the American-Made Index ranked over 100 vehicles based on five factors: assembly location, parts sourcing as determined by the American Automobile Labeling Act, U.S. factory employment relative to sales, engine sourcing, and transmission sourcing.
The results may surprise you. They certainly surprised us. Of special note is the complete absence of Tesla. It is not immediately clear why they do not appear anywhere on this list, but it likely stems from one of three factors. First, they were completely ignored (a choice we would not agree with). Second, that because electric cars have fewer parts compared to an internal combustion engine, each part they import has a larger effect on their percentage of imported parts. The third possibility is that the study seems entirely concentrated around availability on dealer lots, and since Tesla sells through its own locations they were excluded from the data (also something we would disagree with).
Of the top 15 vehicles with the most American content and labor, just six were made by “domestic” brands, and the first-place vehicle’s corporate ownership is Italian. Here’s the list:
|U.S. Assembly Plant Location(s)
|Bowling Green, Ky.
|Acura MDX (excludes hybrid variants)
|East Liberty, Ohio
|East Liberty, Ohio
|Toyota Avalon (excludes hybrid variants)
|Claycomo, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich.
|San Antonio, Texas
According to a survey conducted by Cars.com, about half of Americans are concerned that the ongoing trade war will lead to new tariffs on vehicles that will raise costs. Tariffs on steel and other products are already affecting prices.
The same survey found that while millennials are still buying new cars, just 24% will consider only an American manufacturer. The number rises slightly with age. The survey found that 27% of baby boomers feel that buying non-American is unpatriotic. That leaves about 75% of the buying public who are less concerned with the national origin of their vehicle.
Statistics and percentages matter to corporate sales departments, but for individuals the bottom line is simple: If you care about buying American, there’s your shopping list. It includes the best-selling vehicle in America (F-150) and some of the most popular family cars (Accord) and sports cars (Corvette, Camaro) on the road today. If you want to buy American, it’s actually easy to do.
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