CARS.COM — For 2017, Cars.com has revamped its longstanding American-Made Index for the first time. Over the AMI’s 11-year history, the number of models meeting our original criteria has fallen due to the globalization of automobile manufacturing — from more than 60 vehicles in the AMI’s inaugural year to eight last year. By the original requirements, only three 2017 models would have qualified this year.
With that, witness the new AMI: an analysis of cars assembled in the U.S. with high domestic-parts content, predominant U.S. sourcing for engines and transmissions, and high U.S. manufacturing jobs supported per vehicle. This year, the index de-emphasizes overall sales — a factor that reflects the economic impact of a given model line — to focus on the domestic impact of a single buyer purchasing one model versus another. Cars.com analyzed light-duty passenger vehicles built in the U.S. (more than 120 in total) to arrive at the top 10.
The Cars.com 2017 American-Made Index
2017 Model (Assembly Location)
2. Jeep Cherokee (Toledo, Ohio and Belvidere, Ill.)
3. Ford Taurus (Chicago)
4. Honda Ridgeline (Lincoln, Ala.)
5. Acura RDX (East Liberty, Ohio)
6. Ford F-150 (Dearborn, Mich., and Claycomo, Mo.)
7. Ford Expedition (Louisville, Ky.)
8. GMC Acadia (Spring Hill, Tenn.)
9. Honda Odyssey (Lincoln, Ala.)
10. Honda Pilot (Lincoln, Ala.)
All information pertains to the 2017 model year. Excludes hybrid variants. Sources include automaker and dealership information, Cars.com inventory analysis and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Two Ohio-built SUVs from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles topped Cars.com’s 2017 American-Made Index: the Jeep Wrangler (including the Wrangler Unlimited four-door) and Jeep Cherokee. Their domestic-parts content were among the highest figures Cars.com observed in this year’s AMI: 74 percent for the Wrangler, 75 percent for the Wrangler Unlimited and 70 percent for the Cherokee. All engines and nearly all transmissions for the Wrangler and Cherokee hail from the U.S. The Wrangler is assembled in Toledo, Ohio; the Cherokee also was built in Toledo until April 2017, when production moved to Belvidere, Ill.
Ford had three cars on the list: the Chicago-built Taurus sedan, F-150 pickup truck (Michigan and Missouri) and Expedition SUV (Kentucky). GM’s redesigned Acadia, now built in Tennessee, landed in eighth place. And Honda fielded four AMI models: the Alabama-built Ridgeline pickup truck, Odyssey minivan and Pilot SUV, and the Ohio-built RDX SUV from its Acura luxury division.
The 2017 American-Made Index ranks cars based on five factors: assembly location, domestic-parts content, U.S. factory employment adjusted by sales to reflect how many employees each sale supports, engine origin and transmission origin. (Additionally, curb weight is used in the event of a tie, favoring the heavier vehicle.) The changes in methodology mean current results can’t be compared to those of past indexes.
Domestic-parts content comes from the American Automobile Labeling Act, which requires automakers to report overall parts content on the window stickers of every new light-duty car and truck sold in the country. The AALA lumps the U.S. and Canada into the same “domestic” pool — a critical obstacle to reporting only U.S. content — but is the most specific domestic-content rating system. To further pinpoint U.S. parts origins and not Canadian ones, the AMI now factors the countries of origin for engines and transmissions, which automakers are also required to report. These are two of the most expensive and labor-intensive components in any vehicle.
The final piece is labor. Except for engines and transmissions, the AALA excludes costs associated with final assembly, distribution and non-parts costs. To account for some of those costs, AMI now factors each automaker’s direct U.S. factory employment relative to its sales footprint.
As in previous years, a few disqualifications remain. Discontinued cars, or cars in their final model year before discontinuation, are ineligible. So are any models produced exclusively for export. Rather than a hard cutoff at 75 percent domestic-parts content, as the AMI did in past years, the index now disqualifies cars below the top 40 percent of all domestic-parts content ratings among U.S.-built models. To maintain a consumer focus, the index disqualifies cars that shoppers are unlikely to find — anything that sold fewer than 2,500 units in the first quarter of 2017 or models sold only to fleets. Note, as well, that heavy-duty vehicles (anything with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 8,500 pounds) are ineligible for the AALA and thus not considered in the AMI.
Why It Changed
In redesigning the index, we sought to bolster the factors that address what makes each car American. There is still no easy way to determine that. Many factors exist, and no single one offers a comprehensive answer. But the revamped AMI scores five key components into its index ranking. It’s more comprehensive than ever.
In a politically charged era of build-American sentiment, a sizable portion of shoppers still care where their car comes from. Cars.com surveyed 1,023 respondents in June 2017 to find about 25 percent would only consider an American manufacturer. That’s nearly double the percentage that answered the same way in 2016. The largest block of this year’s respondents (again, about 25 percent) thought that between 31 percent and 40 percent of cars sold in the U.S. are “American made.” That’s accurate if it’s strictly automakers fully headquartered in the U.S. — namely Ford, GM and Tesla, whose combined sales through May account for about a third of all U.S. auto sales, per Automotive News. But if you’re looking at all cars built here regardless of automaker headquarters, it’s about 60 percent. That’s according to a Cars.com analysis in January, which found that around 3 in 5 U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in 2016 were from cars assembled in America.
As the AMI continues to demonstrate, the badge on the hood doesn’t always tell the whole story. The cars on this year’s list hail from automakers headquartered in Europe and Asia as well as North America. Indeed, cars built and bought in the U.S. hail from automakers headquartered the world over, with nameplates as diverse as a Toyota Corolla sedan and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class SUV.
The Jobs Factor
When it comes to the total impact of a global auto industry on U.S. jobs, direct employment at automakers’ plants is just one piece of the pie. That piece amounted to 322,000 Americans directly employed by automakers, according to the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. That’s from a 2015 study by CAR that analyzed the industry’s total impact on the U.S. economy. Another 521,000 Americans worked at automotive suppliers. And new-car dealers employed another 710,000 Americans.
Put another way: For a given 20 people employed by the U.S. auto industry, about four work directly at automakers. About seven work at suppliers, but the biggest chunk — roughly nine — work at new-car dealerships.
If that’s the pie, a gravy train follows it. Myriad additional jobs exist — from used-car dealers and independent repair shops to finance and insurance companies. Scale it all out and CAR estimated in 2015 that the U.S. auto industry directly contributed to the creation of another 5.7 million private-sector jobs. That’s 7.25 million private-sector jobs attributable to the auto industry, CAR found, with some $500 billion in annual compensation — nearly $70,000 apiece. In sum, CAR noted the auto industry supported some 3.8 percent of all private-sector jobs and has historically accounted for 3 percent to 3.5 percent of U.S. GDP.
Which Cars Are Built in the U.S.?
What if you just want to buy a car that’s built in the U.S. regardless of any other AMI factors? We have you covered. Tap the link below to see a full list of 2017 models currently assembled in the U.S.
Editor’s note: At the time of our reporting, the Jeep Cherokee was assembled in Toledo, Ohio; FCA has since moved Cherokee production to Belvidere, Ill.