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 Location*Last Rank
1.Toyota Camry**Georgetown, Ky.;
Lafayette, Ind.
2.Ford F-150Dearborn, Mich.;
Claycomo, Mo.
1
3.Chevrolet Malibu***Kansas City, Kan.3
4.Honda OdysseyLincoln, Ala.7
5.Chevrolet Silverado 1500***Fort Wayne, Ind.8
6.Toyota SiennaPrinceton, Ind.6
7.Toyota TundraSan Antonio5
8.GMC Sierra 1500***Fort Wayne, Ind.
9.Ford TaurusChicago
10.Toyota VenzaGeorgetown, Ky.

*Excludes assembly plants suspended or scheduled for shutdown: Pontiac, Mich. (Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra) and Orion Township, Mich. (Chevrolet Malibu).
**Excludes hybrid models, which are broken out separately, as well as the Toyota Camry Solara.
***Excludes hybrid models, which are broken out separately — or, in the case of the Malibu Hybrid, suspended for consumer sales.

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 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 amount of domestic parts — with eligible models having parts-content ratings of 75 percent or higher — and are bought in the largest numbers by Americans.

Who's On and Who's Off

The Toyota Camry, once an American-Made Index presence, hasn't appeared on this list since 2007. Not only does it return for 2009, it's displaced Ford's F-150 as the only leader this list has had since we began compiling it in 2006. Three others joined the list, two of which — the Ford Taurus and Toyota Venza — have never been on the AMI before, and Detroit automakers claimed just five of the 10 spots. That's a record low for them.

Why the widespread change? The difficult sales environment and changes in cars' domestic-parts content — both major factors in AMI rankings — play a large part. This year's index comes amid an industry-wide sales collapse that's fast reordering the landscape of which cars sell well and which ones don't. Take the F-150: The redesigned 2009 F-150 has taken a larger chunk — about 5 percent more — of overall F-Series sales in 2009, Ford sales analyst George Pipas said. But overall F-Series sales have tumbled nearly 40 percent year-to-date, and the F-150 has seen a steady drop in its U.S.- and Canadian-made parts over the past few model years. The Camry, meanwhile, has seen sales fall, too, but not nearly as badly, and its domestic parts content is on the upswing. Those developments led the Camry to edge out the F-150 by a small but decisive margin.

Per AMI methodology, we excluded any models scheduled to be discontinued without a clear successor. That carried stronger implications this year, as most Pontiac models — including the G6, an AMI mainstay — became ineligible. Another GM mainstay, the Ohio-built Chevrolet Cobalt, dropped significantly in its parts content, which ended its three-year run on the list. But The General still takes three slots, with the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 1500 pickups posting strong content ratings. The popular Chevy Malibu ranked third, in part thanks to its 80 percent domestic content and steady sales.

The Alabama-built Honda Odyssey is up slightly in domestic parts content, up to 80 percent this year. Longtime AMI contender Toyota, meanwhile, has four models on the list this year — the largest AMI presence it's ever had. The Tundra and recently introduced Venza, both developed in the U.S., rank seventh and 10th, respectively, while the Indiana-built Sienna clinched sixth place. Its current generation was developed here, and the 2009 model has an 85 percent domestic content rating. That's the best showing among import vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Which U.S.-Built Cars Have the Highest Domestic-Parts Content?

The American-Made Index rates cars built and bought in the U.S. Among our considerations are sales for each car, as they correlate to the number of U.S. autoworkers employed to build any given model and to build the parts that go into those same cars. If you're looking only at domestic-parts content ratings, build location and future status — i.e., cars that aren't facing imminent cancellation — here's what NHTSA lists as the top U.S.-built 2009 models:

Make/ModelDomestic-parts contentAssembly location
Ford Taurus90 percent Chicago
Lincoln MKS85 percentChicago
Toyota Sienna85 percentPrinceton, Ind.
GMC Savana 150082 percentWentzville, Mo.
Chevrolet Express 150082 percentWentzville, Mo.
Buick Lucerne81 percentDetroit
Chevrolet Malibu80 percentKansas City, Kan.
Honda Odyssey80 percentLincoln, Ala.
Toyota Avalon80 percentGeorgetown, Ky.
Toyota Tundra80 percentSan Antonio
Toyota Venza80 percentGeorgetown, Ky.

Source: NHTSA, automaker data

Not as American as You Think

The "Buy American" crowd may think the simple fact that a car or truck comes from a Detroit automaker means it's American. That's not a bad assumption to start with. GM, Ford and Chrysler generally have higher domestic-parts content across their lineups than their European and Asian competitors. The bottom rung of domestic parts-content models, conversely, is heavy on import brands: All 50 of the 2009 models whose American Automobile Labeling Act parts content is zero are built by Asia- or Europe-based automakers, according to NHTSA.

That isn't to say every GM, Ford or Chrysler is homegrown. The Chevy Aveo, for example, is built in Korea with 1 percent domestic parts. Chrysler's recently discontinued PT Cruiser was built in Mexico, with a domestic-parts content of just 27 percent. Its GM doppelganger, the Chevy HHR, also hails from south of the border, with a domestic-parts content rating of 50 percent. Detroit's latest muscle cars, the 2010 Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro, have a middling 60 percent domestic content, while their crosstown rival, the Dodge Challenger, comes in at 56 percent. Of the three, the Mustang is the only car built here; the Challenger and Camaro are assembled in Canada.

Criticisms & Controversy

Critics of domestic-parts content ratings, required since 1994 by the AALA, say those ratings factor in parts costs but not labor or a host of other factors — like factory equipment — that a given model adds to the U.S. economy. Two alternative systems — one created for the EPA's Corporate Average Fuel Economy program and the other for tariff rates and the North American Free Trade Agreement — accommodate such factors. What's more, AALA lumps U.S. and Canadian parts content together, an approach the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association called "simply misleading" in a 2007 letter to the Department of Transportation.

AALA's dominant metric — parts costs — should factor in labor, at least theoretically. Conventional wisdom says a $300 suspension component purchased from a supplier would incorporate the labor that went into making that part. But, as Honda spokesman Ed Miller pointed out, the correlation can be shaky: "Because you're buying it from a vendor, they're charging you their cost plus their profit."

"One assumes they're charging you for labor," Miller said, but it's hard to know for sure.

As for the ratings themselves, the numbers seem accurate. David Cole, chairman for the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Center for Automotive Research, told us last year that "there's a pretty detailed picture of the content, and it drills down fairly deeply. ... [The labels do] a pretty good job."

Winnowing the field further to include only the cars assembled within this country eliminates a few would-be champs. The 2009 Chevrolet Impala and Buick LaCrosse, for example, are 85 percent domestic-content cars, according to NHTSA, but both are built in Ontario, Canada. (GM is moving production for the redesigned 2010 LaCrosse, however, to Kansas City, Kan.) Though assembly location doesn't necessarily guarantee that the U.S. portion of that AALA U.S./Canadian content will be any higher — with auto parts crossing the borders a dozen times or more, CAR project manager Debbie Menk said, the correlation is iffy at best — it does mean stateside assembly workers are employed building that car. In our book, that makes it more American.

What about profit flow? For a given car you might purchase, hundreds or thousands of dollars in profit could potentially go to Detroit — or Japan, or Germany. This isn't to be discounted. But any American consumer can also invest in those profits: Toyota and Honda, for example, are both on the New York Stock Exchange. And import automakers contend that their manufacturing efforts produce plenty of cars — and with them, jobs — stateside, to the tune of billions of dollars of investment.

Keep in mind that the AMI explicitly rates the most American cars and trucks on a model-by-model basis. Its purpose is not to rate each automaker's summary contributions to the U.S. economy. GM, for instance, has many: Consider that among the 34 2009-model-year cars that NHTSA lists as having U.S./Canadian parts content of 75 percent or higher, 19 of them are GMs. Why didn't The General have a better showing? Declining sales — plus a number of those cars heading for extinction — took a major toll.

What About Gas Mileage?

As consumers compare domestic and foreign automakers, many are making their choice based on a car's gas mileage. See how domestic and foreign automakers rank in fuel efficiency.

Check out July 2008's American-Made Index.

© Cars.com 6/30/09