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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 percentage of domestic parts and are bought in large numbers by American consumers.
F-150 is back; Toyota, Honda and GM still lead
The Toyota Camry topped this year's American-Made Index, extending its No. 1 status to four years running. Ford's F-150 landed by a photo-finish at No. 2, falling behind the Camry by fewer than two days of sales. The F-150 was once a common AMI leader, topping the index from 2006 to 2008, but lower domestic parts content had dropped the best-selling pickup off the list. With its domestic parts content back to 75 percent — up from 60 percent last year — the F-150 returns to the AMI for 2012.
Toyota, Honda and GM combined for eight of the AMI's 10 vehicles. Honda fielded two vehicles, the Ohio-built Accord and Alabama-built Pilot, while GM's related three-row crossovers — the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave, all assembled in Michigan — landed at sixth, ninth and 10th, respectively. Besides the Camry, Toyota's Tundra pickup and Sienna minivan also made the list. The Jeep Wrangler's domestic parts content fell below 75 percent this year, but Chrysler fielded another entrant in the Jeep Liberty. Like the Wrangler, the Liberty is assembled in Ohio.
U.S. Assembly Location(s)
Rank in July 2011
Georgetown, Ky.; Lafayette, Ind.
Dearborn, Mich.; Claycomo, Mo.
San Antonio, Tex.
The Chevrolet Malibu, Ford Explorer and Honda Odyssey fell off the AMI, as all three cars' domestic parts content fell. Of the models that made the index, the Accord and Sienna had the highest domestic parts content, at 80 percent each. In last year's AMI, four cars had 80 percent domestic parts content or higher, reflecting a dwindling number of cars with high domestic content. For the 2012 model year, 21 models assembled in the U.S. have a domestic parts content rating of 75 percent or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That's down from 32 cars a year ago.
Homegrown by label
Domestic parts content labels, required on all new cars since 1994 as a result of the American Automobile Labeling Act, denote the percentage, by cost, of U.S. and Canadian parts in a given model, as well as the final assembly location and country of origin for the model's engines and transmissions. If you're looking for a car with high domestic parts content, U.S. assembly and U.S. sourcing for the engines and transmissions, you'd get a different list:
Toyota Avalon: 85 percent DPC, built in Georgetown, Ky.
Honda Crosstour: 80 percent DPC, built in East Liberty, Ohio
Jeep Liberty: 76 percent DPC, built in Toledo, Ohio
Chevrolet Corvette: 75 percent DPC, built in Bowling Green, Ky.
Toyota Sequoia: 75 percent DPC, built in Princeton, Ind.
Source: Automaker data, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Of course, the above list underrepresents the overall impact of a car. The Corvette is directly responsible for 514 autoworkers at GM's Bowling Green, Ky., assembly plant. By contrast, GM's plant in Lansing, Mich., employs nearly 4,000 to assemble the Enclave, Traverse and Acadia.
It shows the auto industry's global nature. Even the AMI's top cars — the Camry, F-150 and Accord — have some international sourcing. NHTSA says the F-150's 5.0-liter V-8 comes from Canada, while Toyota sources certain Camry drivetrains from Canada. The Accord's transmissions come from the U.S., Japan and the Philippines.
A globalized industry may mean fewer cars that hail mostly from the U.S., but it works for many companies' bottom lines. Ford's global One Ford strategy coincides with falling domestic parts content in its vehicles. Five years ago, Ford had 20 models with 75 percent or higher domestic parts content. For the 2012 model year, that figure fell to three. Yet the same strategy has helped to bring Ford into the black with 11 straight quarterly profits.
"They have one of the highest content vehicles, the old Escape, and one of the lowest content vehicles, the Transit," said Kristin Dziczek, who directs the Labor and Industry group at Michigan's Center for Automotive Research. "There's a global supply chain for most things, and that ebbs and flows with currency, with trade and free-trade agreements. It ebbs and flows with union agreements with capturing outsourced work."
Ford isn't alone. Cars.com surveyed domestic parts content for the top 113 models on the market, which make up 89 percent of all the cars sold through May. More than 80 percent of those cars — the vast majority of what shoppers are buying — have domestic parts content below 75 percent or are assembled in Canada, Mexico or abroad.
Many consumers still say they would only consider cars built by the Detroit Three. Cars.com conducted a survey in June 2012, asking consumers if they had a preference between a domestic- or foreign-made car. Of the 1,004 respondents, 23 percent said they would only consider an American manufacturer. Their top reasons, unsurprisingly, were brand loyalty and supporting the local economy. But nearly half of that group said that a car from a foreign automaker would be more appealing if they knew the car was built in the U.S.