What is the Most American Car?

"Buying American" isn't as easy as it used to be. Foreign automaker assembly plants have sprung up across the country, and American car parts and assembly are being outsourced. Are there even any more American cars left?

Since the dust has mostly settled from the Carpocalypse, we can now take a look at what the most American car is. It used to be as simple as going into your Big Three dealership of choice, going on a test drive, and riding home in your brand new, red, white, and blue vehicle. Times are much different now, as some American branded cars are made outside of the US, while Japanese brands have factories building cars of mostly American-produced parts!

It's relatively easy to describe an American car in qualitative terms. Gas-sucking V8 up front, tires spinning in the back, or massive truck and family hauler. This really doesn't work, since many foreign automakers also make these cars. So in search of a currently manufactured American car, we'll use quantitative numbers. Let's dive into some data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

Every year, the NHTSA provides a list of the US/Canadian parts content of every new vehicle sold in the United States. It's Part 583 of the American Automobile Labeling Act and the quantity and detail of what they track is pretty amazing. Charts are great, but what we want really want to know is how "American" a vehicle really is.

Let's start with the nearly 400 cars on the list for 2010. Since they can be organized by percentage of US/Canadian parts content, we have to establish the point at which a car is American in parts. Sadly, no car is 100% American-made anymore. Technically, the story could end here. So for the sake of continuing this article, we'll use a percentage of 65%, or about 2/3. I think this is better than using, say, 51% because that's still pretty close to half. Half American isn't good enough for me. This narrows the list down to what you see in chart #1.

Wow! Nearly 400 cars have been narrowed down to 88. The Mustang and Camaro didn't make the cut. The Ford F-150 didn't make it either. Time to eliminate the brands and models that are dead or dying. After highlighting them in red, we arrive at chart #2.

A whole bunch of vehicles in the 85% and up range bite the dust. The next step is to eliminate any vehicles with assembly points outside of the United States. There's nothing worse than after buying an "all-American pickup" finding out that it's actually made in Canada. Let's highlight these vehicles with assembly points outside of the USA in blue, and we're at chart #3.

Last but not least, we need to get rid of companies that aren't American. This includes the former American brands of Chrysler. These are marked in yellow. What we're left with is the vehicles in chart #4. We're now down to only 14 models, and some of these are brand duplicates. Here they are, in order of US/Canadian parts content:

Ford Escape, Ford Focus, Chevrolet Express/GMC Savana, Cadillac DTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Lucerne, Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Corvette, Ford Taurus, Buick Enclave,
Cadillac CTS, Cadillac STS

Using the data as we have, these are the only American cars. Kind of depressing, isn't it?

Take a closer look at the list, though and you'll find something amazing. Conspicuously missing are large SUVs and pickups. This is actually a good thing, since every car on this list is fantastic. A small segment from almost every market is represented here. The world-class sports car in the Corvette, the rugged utilitarian vehicle in the Colorado/Canyon, and mass market darlings in the Escape, Focus, and Malibu. The rest of the offerings from Cadillac and Buick show that we still build American luxury. The American vehicle is an endangered species, but by no means extinct. This list just proves that Americans still build great cars, but they're just harder to find.

Let's work backwards for a bit. See all the cars on highlighted in yellow? Those are all cars that are actually assembled here, in the United States. The profits may go to companies overseas, but the factories employ hardworking American men and women. If you factor in the suppliers necessary to support a factory, you have a large portion of money going into communities local to the factory.

We may be tempted to lament the loss of 100% American cars, but the next time you think about a foreign car as being "foreign", look a little closer. It may have a non-domestic badge on it, but it may be made with mostly American parts, in America, by Americans. "Buying American" may not be as simple as it once was, but after looking over the facts, perhaps the simplest way these days would be to head to your nearest Toyota dealership.

Photo Credit: uzvards / Flickr

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