During the weekend prior to America’s celebration of 241 years of independence, the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) will hold a race at Daytona International Speedway. Contestants will drive vehicles that are styled to resemble the Chevrolet SS, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry, and after racing ‘em on Sunday, these car companies hope that NASCAR fans will buy ‘em on Monday.
Here’s a red, white, and blue trivia challenge: Can you guess which member of this trio is the most American car of the three?
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If you think the Camry is the most American, give yourself a fist bump and grab a cold one, because you’re right. According to American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington D.C., the Camry’s “total domestic content” measures 78.5%, while the Ford Fusion’s measures 48.5%. What about the Chevrolet SS? Now discontinued, the SS was not included in American University’s “Made in America Auto Index 2017.” Last year, however, the Chevy SS mustered a TDC of just 13.5%.
So what, exactly, is going on here? After all, the Camry is a Japanese midsize sedan, right? It’s not as easy as that.
People realize that no vehicle sold in the U.S. is 100% American. People also realize that it is almost impossible to quantify which of the parts came from where, and what percentage of the total effort involved in creating the vehicle, from the sketch on the drawing board to the final product rolling off of an assembly line, qualifies as “American.”
Therefore, consumers simplify the definition of what makes a car American, ultimately qualifying any given vehicle by where the profits from the sale will flow.
Thus, a Ford Fusion built in Mexico is American, but a Toyota Camry made in Kentucky is not.
Then there is the conundrum of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which further complicates this simplified definition of an American car. The company that builds the brutally powerful ‘American’ muscle car known as the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat also builds Alfa Romeos and Fiats, sells Jeeps that are assembled in Italy and Mexico, and is headquartered in London, England.
Argh! So confusing!
Don’t worry. Figuring out how to buy an American car is easy, thanks to the efforts of American University’s Kogod School of Business and its annual “Made in America Auto Index.” Each year, researcher Frank Dubois updates this weighted index to help car buyers understand the economic impact of their new vehicle selections. The index takes into account multiple aspects of vehicle design, development, and production in order to establish which vehicles are the most American, and which are not.
For example, the index does consider whether or not a company has a U.S. headquarters and where the profits flow. It also takes into account where the vehicle is designed and engineered, where it is produced, and where major components are made. In all, seven different variables are assessed, with rankings assigned.
Once the numbers are crunched, Kogod gives each make and model a total domestic content (TDC) value, and lists the vehicles from highest to lowest based on that value.
Highlights from the Index
Three vehicles tie for being the most American, with 85.5% TDC. They are the family-sized crossover SUVs from General Motors, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia.
In the #2 slot with 85% TDC, America’s favorite full-size pickup truck, the Ford F-150, serves as the runner-up. Chevy’s iconic Corvette is the third most American car you can buy, with 82% TDC, but only when equipped with an automatic transmission. Corvettes with a manual gearbox receive a 75% TDC.
In fourth place, specific versions of the Jeep Wrangler earn 81.5% TDC. Another Wrangler, the Sport, ties with the Ford Expedition in fifth place with 81% TDC, followed by the Ford Taurus and Lincoln Navigator in sixth place (80.5% TDC). All-wheel-drive versions of the Cadillac ATS and Cadillac CT6 land in seventh place (80% TDC) tied with the Chevrolet Colorado Z71 Crew Cab with four-wheel drive.
Rounding out the Top 10 most American vehicles for 2017, the Jeep Cherokee takes the #8 slot (79% TDC). Ninth place is dominated by supposed ‘imports’ that are tied with 78.5% TDC: the Toyota Camry, along with the Kia Optima Hybrid and a slew of Hondas including the Pilot, Ridgeline, CR-V (LX trim with AWD), and Acura’s upscale RDX.
What’s in tenth place? The Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid make the cut, each earning 78% TDC.
The highest-ranked European vehicle is the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan with 70% TDC, putting the entry-luxury car into the #20 slot on the index and making it more ‘American’ than a Chevrolet Impala (ranked #23 with 66% TDC).
Generally speaking, General Motors build the ‘most American’ vehicles. The automaker dominates the top slots on the 2017 Made in America Auto Index, with 15 different models achieving 75% TDC or greater.
However, the automaker also sells several models that rank low on the index, including the Chinese-built Buick Envision (13% TDC) and the South Korean-made Chevrolet Spark (13% TDC). Ford’s Fiesta contains just 15.5% TDC, and all three of these ‘American’ models rank lower than a Fiat 500, at 29.5% TDC.
If you want to buy the most American car, truck, or SUV that you can, check out the complete Made in America Auto Index for 2017:
Why Buying American is Important
While America is an important participant in the global economy, it is also a nation of citizens who must look after one another in order to ensure collective success. That sounds like support of Trumpism, I know, but I believe that encouraging Americans to purchase American products is one of three things that Trump gets right, along with investment in infrastructure and imposing term limits on members of Congress.
Buying a vehicle with a high percentage of TDC helps to keep Americans employed and the economy healthy, and it doesn’t really matter where the profits ultimately flow. What matters are paychecks for American workers at all levels, from research and development to engineering and production.
Thanks to the American University Kogod Made in America Auto Index, it is easy to determine what’s actually the most beneficial purchase for keeping the American economy chugging right along, and what’s not.
Granted, you could simply continue defining American vehicles using outdated and inaccurate methods, exhorting that the Ram 1500 is an American truck (72% TDC) while the Toyota Tundra is an import (73.5% TDC).
The truth is a bit more complicated, as it turns out.
Updated with 2017 model year information on June 12, 2017