The Cars.com American-Made Index

What Are the Top American-Made Cars?
Cars.com's American-Made Index rates vehicles built and bought in the U.S. Factors include sales, where the car's parts are made and whether the car is assembled in the U.S. Models that have been discontinued are disqualified, as are those with a domestic-parts content rating below 75 percent.
RankMake/ModelU.S. Assembly LocationLast Rank
1.Ford F-150*Claycomo, Mo.;
Dearborn, Mich.
1
2.Chevrolet CobaltLordstown, Ohio2
3.Chevrolet Malibu**Kansas City, Kan.9
4.Pontiac G6Orion, Mich.5
5.Toyota TundraPrinceton, Ind.;
San Antonio
4
6.Toyota SiennaPrinceton, Ind.6
7.Honda OdysseyLincoln, Ala.-
8.Chevrolet Silverado 1500*Fort Wayne, Ind.;
Pontiac, Mich.
3
9.Chrysler SebringSterling Heights, Mich.-
10.Ford Explorer/Sport TracLouisville, Ky.10

*Rankings based on estimated sales breakouts and/or production data.
**Excludes hybrid.

Sources: Automaker data, Automotive News

Ford and GM continue their reign in this summer's American-Made Index, but two new automakers — Chrysler and Honda — have joined the list, raising the number of manufacturers on it to five. That's the most carmakers the AMI has featured in the two years we've been compiling it.

How did those two make it? The Alabama-built Odyssey minivan led Honda's charge thanks to its high domestic-parts content rating, which indicates the percentage of U.S. and Canadian parts, by cost, in a given vehicle. The 2008 Odyssey's domestic content rating went up to 75 percent, compared to 70 percent for the '07 model, which comprised a sizeable chunk of last year's sales.

Honda spokesman Chuck Schifsky said it's hard to single out what specific domestic content was added in the Odyssey; Schifsky noted that Honda has a number of cars in the 70 percent range.

Chrysler, meanwhile, has had a tough time making the index because a number of its strongest sellers — the Dodge Ram pickup and Grand Caravan minivan, for example — are either assembled mostly in Canada or have comparatively low domestic-parts content ratings. That's not the case this time: The Chrysler Sebring sedan and convertible, both built in Michigan, pushed a number of others out of the way to make it to ninth place on the list.

In Chrysler's wake? Among a few models to drop off the list this time around was the Ford Escape, long an AMI staple; it's domestic-parts content rating fell 25 percentage points (from 90 percent to 65 percent) when it was redesigned for 2008. Last winter, Ford spokesman Wes Sherwood couldn't give a reason for the domestic content drop, but said Ford is "proud of the domestically produced parts that go into our vehicles ... but there are changes from year to year."

Sherwood need only point to the F-150 pickup, which has claimed the top spot in the AMI five times running. Sagging pickup sales have had no effect yet on its status: The F-Series is built here with consistently high domestic-parts content, and its high — if falling — sales continue to give it a commanding lead. We've seen earlier contenders like the Toyota Camry go from near the top to elimination, though; all it takes is a precipitous drop in a car's domestic content. With the redesigned '09 F-150 in the wings, it will be interesting to see how its content ratings fare.

Ford's other model on the list, the Kentucky-built Explorer, continues to rank 10th.

GM has always been a strong player, but that's true for different reasons this time. The Kansas-built Chevy Malibu moved from an unremarkable 33rd ranking in year-to-date sales in December to 15th overall today, and its 85 percent domestic-parts content rating is as high as any vehicle we surveyed. It jumped to third place in the AMI, up from ninth. Making the opposite trip was the Silverado, whose sagging sales and increased production in Mexico and Canada knocked it down to eighth.

Other GMs, from the Chevrolet Cobalt to the Pontiac G6, generally held steady. So did Toyota's two entrants, the Sienna minivan and Tundra pickup. Stagnant sales, meanwhile, pushed the aging Chevy TrailBlazer off the list.

All the same, coupes and sedans seem to be making limited headway — strange, given higher gas prices and headier sales in those segments. Our first index, in June 2006, had three cars; today there are four.

Why is that? The answer might be as simple as where the models are built. For this particular index, Cars.com surveyed the country's 58 best-selling models through May 31 of this year. Of the 30 trucks, vans and SUVs in that group, 23 are assembled in the U.S. (though not always exclusively; some models are assembled both in plants here and in other countries), but just half of the cars on the list — 14 of 28 — are built here.

"Among popular models, more cars are imported to the U.S. than trucks, vans and SUVs," said Tina Jantzi, a senior forecaster at J.D. Power and Associates. "It's difficult to say definitively why, as there are likely many reasons that vary by manufacturer."

One possible factor is the cost of shipping vehicles, which favors cars because they're lighter and smaller. Either way, it's a trend that could persist for some time. Jantzi predicts that by 2015, some 69 percent of popular imports will be cars, up from 67 percent today, according to J.D. Power data.

David Cole, chairman of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research, says it makes sense to build where there's demand.

"Since the market for larger vehicles is more narrowly focused on North America, more would be built here," Cole said. "But for many of the cars, they could come from production facilities just about anywhere.

"I'm not sure this is likely to change much, although with the general downsizing of more cars and trucks here, that may lead to globalization of more production. Ultimately the objective of any manufacturer is to maximize utilization of all production assets — that is, operate at 100 percent of capacity or more."

Globalized production, of course, also means that a number of popular models already aren't as homegrown as you might think. Take cars like the Ford Mustang, Chevy Impala and Chrysler 300: The Michigan-built Mustang has a disappointing 65 percent domestic-parts content rating, while the 300 and Impala are built in Canada. What's more, America's beloved retro hatchbacks, the Chevy HHR and soon-to-be-discontinued Chrysler PT Cruiser, are built in Mexico. The pint-sized Chevy Aveo is built in South Korea.

Not that import automakers fare any better: Hyundai's Alabama-built 2009 Sonata has just 43 percent domestic content, while the Ohio-built Honda CR-V comes in at just 10 percent. That portrait of urban frugality, the Toyota Prius? It's imported from Japan — and so are suburbanite favorites like the Nissan Murano and Toyota RAV4.

Editor's note: In today's global economy, there's no easy way to determine just how American a car is. Many cars built in the U.S., for example, are assembled using parts that come from somewhere else. Some cars assembled in the U.S. from strictly American-made parts don't sell very well, meaning that fewer Americans are building those models. Cars.com's American-Made Index highlights the cars that are built here, have the highest percentage of domestic parts, and are bought in the largest numbers by Americans.

There are a few options for determining a car's domestic-parts content. We went with the figure that appears alongside the window sticker of new cars as a result of the American Automobile Labeling Act, enacted in 1994. The AALA mandates that virtually every new car display the percentage, by cost, of its parts that originated in the U.S. and Canada. We deemed cars with a domestic-parts content rating of 75 percent or higher eligible for the index.

© Cars.com 7/1/08