It was the most talked about two minutes of television in years; a kind of post-industrial morality play with a thumping soundtrack and a new Chrysler rolling through the gritty streets of Detroit, past vacant factories and shadowy stadiums named for bygone heroes. This, Chrysler brand CEO Olivier Francois told the audience at the 2011 New York International Auto Show, was not just another Super Bowl commercial; this was a car that was proud to be “imported from Detroit.”
It was soul stirring to say the least, backed up with the strains of a live gospel chorus and mind-blowing audio effects. Still, in these times of multinationals and gazillion-dollar bailouts you had to wonder – how American was it?
An interesting question to be sure, and one Chrysler loyalists might find preposterous. After all, Chrysler has been an American institution since 1920; the marque brought us the Hemi engine, the minivan, and interiors swathed in rich Corinthian leather. But that was then.
| VEHICLE||WHERE BUILT|| % U.S./Canada|
| Chevrolet Aveo|| San Luis Potosi, Mexico||2%|
| Ford Fiesta|| Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico||10%|
| Ford Fusion/Lincoln MKZ|| Hermosillo, Mexico|| 20%|
| Cadillac SRX|| Ramos Arizpe, Mexico|| 21%|
| Mercury Milan|| Hermosillo, Mexico|| 25%|
| Chevrolet HHR|| Ramos Arizpe, Mexico|| 37%|
| Dodge Journey|| Toluca, Mexico|| 38%|
| Chevrolet Volt|| Hamtramck, Michigan|| 40%|
| Chevrolet Cruze|| Lordstown, Ohio|| 45%|
| Ford Expedition/|
| Louisville, Kentucky|| 50%|
| Lincoln MKS|| Chicago, Illinois|| 55%|
| Buick LaCrosse|| Kansas City, Kansas|| 57%|
In more recent years industry watchers have seen the line between “American” and “foreign” become increasingly blurred; according to the U.S. government, in order to be labeled “American” and avoid import taxes, a car must contain at least 75% parts made in the United States. Measuring by this yardstick, the Chrysler 300 – for all its gangsta theatrics – isn’t very American at all; it falls short with only 73% American content and so must be considered a foreign car.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of the most technologically advanced and reliable vehicles on the road are made in plants owned and operated by foreign manufacturers either stateside or overseas. Paradoxically, neither domestic nor foreign carmakers want the public to know just how many – the former because being outsold by imports in their own backyard just looks plain bad for American industry, the latter because foreign automakers fear a protectionist backlash from the public, and Washington. For decades, Detroit’s car-making troika have danced around the question of nationality by referring to "North American" production, which includes Canada and Mexico, where they build approximately one-third of their cars. The snazzy new Chevy Camaro, for instance, is made in Canada, while the popular Ford Fusion sedan is assembled in Mexico. Including Canada and Mexico allows Detroit's Big Three to say they still build the majority of their cars in North America.
The "Made in America" claim is becoming increasingly irrelevant. In recent years, the line between “American” and “foreign” has blurred to the point that in 2010, foreign automakers produced more cars in the U.S. than did Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler combined (the last now controlled by the Italian company Fiat, and whose CEO, a Frenchman, urges “Buy American” in an accent as Gallic as escargot).