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What Is the Most American Car You Can Buy This Fourth of July?

Stephen Fogel
June 30, 2019

american car

There once was a time when it was easy to know what an American car was, and what it wasn’t. The domestic manufacturers, including General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, made just about all of their cars in the U.S. Anything with a foreign nameplate, be it a Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, or Honda, was made in its home country and shipped here to be sold.

But that all changed during the 1980s and ’90s. A recession led to Japanese automakers building cars in the U.S., and American carmakers to import autos from overseas under their own nameplates. NAFTA got American manufacturers to ship assembly work to Canada and Mexico.

Then, during the automotive industry’s crisis in 2008, a bankrupt Chrysler was given to Fiat, who runs it to this day. This means that the car company that makes and sells Chryslers, Dodges, Jeeps and Ram trucks, in America, is now owned by an Italian automaker. The new combined entity, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), can be seen as a part-European, part-American automaker.

So what, really, is an American car?

In view of all of this, how can you possibly determine what an American car is? And if it’s at least partly American, how American is it? We wanted to find out, so we came up with some guidelines.

There are several different elements that can count toward how “American” any vehicle is. They include: 

  • Where the profits go: If the company is U.S.-based, like GM, Ford or Tesla, that’s a plus.
  • Where the labor that assembles it is located: Assembled in the U.S. is a good thing!
  • Where the R&D is located: It’s best if the car is designed and developed in the U.S.
  • Where the engine and transmission are produced: It’s better for these major components to be made in the U.S., and not imported.
  • Where the chassis, body, and electrical parts are produced: These parts make up about half of the car, so the more that’s made in America, the better.

Remember, no car is 100% American!

Even if a vehicle has been designed and built by a U.S. automaker, in a U.S. plant, by U.S. workers, and uses a U.S.-made engine, transmission, body, chassis and electrical components, it will not be 100% American. This is because all auto production has become globalized, with supply chains that can stretch around the world. Many components of each car are contracted out to suppliers in other countries.  

The most American cars that you can buy

There are two different sources that each research and publish their findings on the cars with the most American content. Their findings vary slightly, due to differences in their methodologies, but there is some overlap in the results.

The Cars.com American-Made Index

One of these sources is Cars.com’s American-Made Index. Here is their Top Ten list, along with the plant(s) that each auto is made in:

1.      2018 Jeep Cherokee: Belvidere, Ill.

2.      2018 Honda Odyssey: Lincoln, Ala.

3.      2018 Honda Ridgeline: Lincoln, Ala.

4.      2018 Ford Taurus: Chicago, Ill.

5.      2018 Chevrolet Volt: Detroit, Mich.

6.      2018 Honda Pilot: Lincoln, Ala.

7.      2018 Acura MDX: East Liberty, Ohio

8.      2018 Ford Explorer: Chicago, Ill.

9.      2018 Ford F-150: Claycomo, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich.

10.    2018 Chevrolet Corvette: Bowling Green, Ky.

This list contains six vehicles from traditional American manufacturers, mixed in with four that have been designed, produced and assembled in the U.S. by Honda/Acura, a Japanese company. This shows how little difference there really can be, in terms of content, between cars we think of as “American” and those we regard as “imports.”

The Kogod Made in America Auto Index

Another good source is the American University Kogod School of Business Made in America Auto Index. The Kogod list drills down into the content of specific trim and equipment levels. Here is their list of the currently produced finalists for the Top Ten — due to ties there are more than 10 vehicles listed:

1.

Chevrolet Corvette (Automatic Transmission)

2.

Chevrolet Volt

3.

Ford F-150 4X2 5.0L, 4X4 2.7L & 5.0L

Lincoln Continental

4.

Jeep Wrangler 3.6

Ford Taurus 3.5

Lincoln MKC

5.

Ford Explorer

Cadillac ATS Sedan AWD

Chevrolet Camaro 1LT 2.0

GMC Acadia AWD Denali

Honda Ridgeline

Honda Odyssey EX-L, Elite

6.

Ford Mustang (Automatic Transmission, 2.3L & 5.0L)

7.

Tesla Model S

8.

Chevrolet Corvette (Manual Transmission)

9.

Acura MDX

Acura TLX AWD

Honda Pilot

10.

Chevrolet Colorado

Once again, there are many Honda and Acura products listed among those from the home-grown manufacturers. If buying an “American-made” car is important to you, this should give you something to think about!

Stephen Fogel

About the Author

Stephen has been an automotive enthusiast since childhood, owning some of his vehicles for as long as 40 years, and has raced open-wheel formula cars. He follows and writes about the global automotive industry, with an eye on the latest vehicle technologies.