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*Dearborn, Mich.;
Kansas City, Mo.;
Norfolk, Va.
1
2.Toyota Camry**,
Camry Solara
Georgetown, Ky.3
3.Chevrolet Silverado 1500*Fort Wayne, Ind.;
Pontiac, Mich.
2
4.Chevrolet CobaltLordstown, Ohio5
5.Ford Explorer,
Explorer Sport Trac
Louisville, Ky.;
St. Louis
6
6. Chevrolet Malibu,
Malibu Maxx
Kansas City, Kan.7
7.Chevrolet TrailBlazer*Moraine, Ohio10
8.Toyota SiennaPrinceton, Ind.9
9.Pontiac G6Orion, Mich.
10.Ford Escape**Kansas City, Mo.8

*Rankings based on estimated sales breakouts and/or production data; TrailBlazer excludes discontinued TrailBlazer EXT.
**Excludes hybrid.

Sources: Automaker data, Automotive News, CNW Marketing Research, 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, 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.

For cars that passed that test, we determined which were built in the U.S., and then considered how well they sold to arrive at our rankings. One last consideration was that the cars on the index need to be sticking around for the foreseeable future. Case in point: The Ford Taurus, built in Atlanta, is one of Ford's best-selling models, and its domestic-parts index is very high. It's not on the list, though, because Ford ended production of the Taurus in October, so no autoworkers are currently employed to build it.

The debate over what is American-made

Not everyone agrees that AALA ratings are the way to go. Paul Ryan is the director of governmental affairs at the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, an advocacy group for import automakers, and he says those parts content figures have several shortcomings.

For one, Ryan says, the labels don't address some of the other realities of selling a car in the U.S. — such as the jobs generated by assembly lines, transportation, marketing and dealerships.

He also says the labels lump Canadian and U.S. content into the same "domestic" pool — which can be deceptive if you're looking for strictly U.S. content — and that the percentages are averaged across all versions of a model. That can also be misleading, given that the percentages may vary for different trims.

There are two other ratings systems that attempt to determine a car's domestic content: the Corporate Average Fuel Economy ratings and the North American Free Trade Agreement ratings. Neither, however, requires carmakers to specify the percentage of a car's domestic content — just whether the car meets a certain threshold. It's a pass/fail situation, so it's impossible to compare specific cars based on those ratings. While Ryan says he prefers the CAFE ratings, he concedes there's no perfect formula.

Other things to consider

Countless other factors that impact how American a car is can be debated — from how many U.S. workers an automaker employs to where the company's profits end up — and most are not cut-and-dried.

Just because a company is based abroad, for example, doesn't mean all its profits end up overseas. While GM dwarfs Toyota in its number of U.S. employees, both have many American shareholders — and profits for both go to finance operations in the U.S. and abroad.

"It's impossible to know exactly where the dollars go," said Steven Szakaly, an economist at the Center for Automotive Research, based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Still, he said Detroit automakers do have a stronger U.S. employment base than import automakers do — particularly when it comes to research and development engineers. There are, however, some exceptions. Toyota's redesigned Tundra pickup is built at the company's $1.3 billion plant in San Antonio, Texas. It will go on sale in February, and Szakaly said much of the research and development for the Tundra was done in the U.S.

"That's one example of what should be happening more, I think," he said.

Toyota manufacturing spokesman Dan Sieger said that while Toyota's vehicle platforms are often developed overseas, there is considerable R&D beyond that stage — and much of it happens in the U.S.

"We're a global company, so when you have global vehicles it makes sense to centralize your platform development," Sieger said. "What we do here in Michigan is upper-body development — everything a customer sees, touches, feels.

"If you look at the pure numbers, we have about 30,000 [U.S.] manufacturing jobs, and our total R&D jobs at this point are 876," he said. "They're very different jobs. These are highly skilled, highly technical jobs."

Editor's notes

In July's American-Made Index, we included select heavy-duty models — like Ford's E-Series and F-Series Super Duty, and Chevrolet's Silverado HD — with their respective lineups in terms of sales popularity and parts content. Since their Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings exceed 8,500 pounds, these trucks are technically exempt from parts content ratings. We excluded them this time, but some of their light-duty siblings — the F-150 and Silverado 1500 — sold enough to earn spots high on the list. Though it's eligible for the ratings, the light-duty E-150 did not sell enough to make the list.

In July, we set our parts content threshold for eligible models at 75 percent, calling it the government standard to label a vehicle "domestic." We should clarify that the designation comes from CAFE ratings, which use different methodology to calculate parts makeup. Given that CAFE recognizes a car's domestic or import status based on a 75 percent threshold, we've maintained that threshold for our index.

Check out July 2006's American-Made Index.

Posted on 1/3/07