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 come from and whether the car is assembled in the U.S. We disqualify models with a domestic parts content rating below 75 percent, models built exclusively outside the U.S. or models soon to be discontinued without a U.S.-built successor.
Rank Make/Model U.S. Assembly Location Last Rank
1. Toyota Camry Georgetown, Ky.;
Lafayette, Ind.
1
2. Honda Accord Marysville, Ohio;
Lincoln, Ala.
2
3. Chevrolet Malibu Kansas City, Kan. 5
4. Ford Explorer Chicago
5. Honda Odyssey Lincoln, Ala. 6
6. Toyota Sienna Princeton, Ind. 10
7. Jeep Wrangler Toledo, Ohio 9
8. Chevrolet Traverse Lansing, Mich.
9. Toyota Tundra San Antonio 8
10. GMC Acadia Lansing, Mich.

Excludes hybrid variants. The Camry excludes the related Venza; the Accord excludes the related Crosstour.

Sources: Automaker data, Automotive News, dealership data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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 elsewhere. Some cars assembled in the U.S. from largely American-made parts don't sell well, meaning fewer Americans are employed to build them. Cars.com's American-Made Index recognizes cars that are built here, have a high amount of domestic parts and are bought in large numbers by American consumers.

Toyota and Honda Still Tops; GM Moves Up

Despite stagnant sales, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord remain atop this year's American-Made Index. Falling domestic parts content axed Ford's popular Escape and Focus, but the Dearborn, Mich., automaker's redesigned, Chicago-built Explorer hit the ground running and entered the list at fourth place.

General Motors fielded three entrants — a feat not seen since the 2009 AMI — with the Chevrolet Malibu and two large crossovers, the Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia. Honda's Odyssey returned for a second year running, moving up a spot to fifth. Toyota's Sienna minivan and Tundra pickup truck both returned this year, as did Chrysler's popular Jeep Wrangler.

Detroit's full-size pickups, once a dominant force on the AMI, remain off the chart. The F-150 held a commanding No. 1 spot in the first three years that Cars.com compiled the index, with domestic parts content as high as 90 percent. Alas, today's Michigan- and Missouri-built F-150 bears only 60 percent domestic content rating. Similarly, the Chevrolet Silverado, which held second place for much of the F-150's reign, has just 61 percent domestic content. Chrysler's Ram 1500 pickup's 70 percent domestic content fares better, but it still falls short of the AMI's 75-percent cutoff.

"It is easier for established high-volume models of the like of the F-150s to create those scales, with which it makes sense for the OEM [automaker] to spend time on global sourcing," IHS Automotive analyst Matteo Fini said in an email. Automakers "can achieve significant savings on these high-volume models, while for low-volume [models] … it is more of a headache to waste resources assessing suppliers until when a suitable one is found for only few parts."

That explains some of the volatility of domestic parts content among some models. The Escape, for example, had a 65-percent content rating in 2009 and 2011. In 2010, it spiked to 90 percent. In years past, Ford spokesmen have characterized the fluctuating content as a "pretty common" result of year-to-year changes in parts sourcing.

Many Cars Still Imported

Of the top 50 best-selling models so far this year — a group that made up nearly two-thirds of all car sales — only 29 are assembled in part or in whole in the U.S. Others, from the Toyota Prius to the Chevy Equinox, come from elsewhere. What's more, a number of domestically assembled models, like the Alabama-built Hyundai Sonata and Michigan-built Ford Focus, rely heavily on global parts.

That trend could continue. In the 2010 model year, the country's top 20 best-sellers averaged a domestic parts content rating of 62 percent. For the 2011 model year, the top 20 averaged 55 percent. Forthcoming models like the redesigned 2012 Ford Focus — a poster car for Ford's global One Ford strategy — have a domestic parts content rating of just 40 percent.

Still, Detroit automakers build a majority of the nameplates with high domestic content. For the 2011 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports 37 models have domestic parts content of 75 percent or higher. Twenty-eight of them are from a Detroit-based brand. A year ago, Detroit brands were responsible for 35 of the 47 models rated 75 percent or higher.

Given that, one would expect Detroit to mount an AMI comeback, particularly with the sales woes faced by Japanese manufacturers. Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami prompted Toyota and Honda — both regulars on the American-Made Index — to cut Japanese production and slow U.S. output until supply chains could be mended. Stymied by tight inventory, both automakers saw their sales drop precipitously in May, though they remain slightly up for the year. Korean brands Hyundai and Kia picked up much of the sales. So did Detroit carmakers: Chrysler and GM are both up around 20 percent, and Ford sales have improved 9 percent.

So why isn't Detroit fielding more entrants?

Blame the parts content and assembly locations. Some mainstream nameplates, from Detroit's full-size pickups to its popular compacts, are built stateside but have lower domestic content. Others — Chrysler's minivans, the Ford Fusion, the Chevy Camaro — are assembled in Canada or Mexico. In 2010, Automotive News reported that the U.S. auto industry produced some 4.4 million cars from U.S. nameplates in the two neighboring countries. That's a sizable number, given the same industry built nearly 8 million passenger vehicles in the U.S. over the same period.

It's cheaper to build in Mexico, and thanks to 1994's North American Free Trade Agreement, it comes with little penalty. Labor rates account for less than 10 percent of overall vehicle cost, Fini says. But within that, the difference is significant. In 2010, Canadian autoworkers averaged $38.77 an hour in U.S. dollars, including benefits. Their U.S. counterparts averaged $33.46. Mexican autoworkers, in contrast, made just $3.75 an hour, IHS Automotive found.

Detroit carmakers are hardly the only automakers choosing to import. This marks the sixth year Cars.com has produced the American-Made Index. Nissan, whose Versa and Sentra come from Mexico, has yet to field an entrant with more than 65 percent domestic content in those years, NHTSA data show. Several of the most popular Toyota and Honda nameplates — like the Prius hybrid and Fit hatchback — remain imported. Absent its former production plant in northern California, Toyota's popular Corolla hails from just one North American assembly plant. It's in Canada.

What About Exports?

Exports, of course, could upend everything. Suppose Americans buy only some of a certain model built here, leaving the rest to be exported. Should an automaker get AMI credit for employing more American autoworkers to build a car even if it ends up in the hands of shoppers in Mexico, Canada or abroad?

The effect would be scant, experts say. A host of factors — U.S. labor and materials costs, tariffs imposed by other countries, the cost of shipping — make U.S. auto exports a relative minority. So how many cars and trucks are exported each year? That answer isn't easy to find.

Last year, one analyst pegged North American auto exports at less than 5 percent of total production. Narrow it down to the U.S., and that figure goes up. Citing U.S. Commerce Department data, the Detroit Three-supported American Automotive Policy Council reported nearly 1.5 million light-duty passenger vehicles were exported from the U.S. in 2010. That's about 20 percent of nearly 8 million such vehicles produced here in 2010, according to Automotive News data. The U.S. Census Bureau put the number closer to 1.2 million, but that includes a smattering of peripheral vehicles — ATVs, security runabouts — which the bureau doesn't break out.

"It is very hard to get a good number on exports," said IHS Automotive analyst Tracy Handler, who didn't have a firm number. "We look at what is produced here, what is sold here and then what is leftover is basically exports and inventory. The manufacturers are not forthcoming in providing that data."

See the 2010 American-Made Index here.

© Cars.com 06/27/2011