BRANDING: Is Your Car Really Made in America?

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Many people won’t buy a car that’s not American made, but which cars truly qualify for that distinction? There was a time when people simply looked at a brand like Ford or Chevrolet and assumed that it was American-made, but that’s not always the case.

Cars from US-brand companies are built all over the place with parts often coming from more than one country in a single car. It’s confusing, even though back in the ’90s, the US government stepped in back in the ’90s to try and sort it out.

The American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) of 1994 requires a window sticker that breaks down parts content from the US and Canada as well as country of assembly and country of origin for the engine and transmission. Take a look at the sticker on that Amercian car and you might find it’s not so American after all.

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It gets even murkier when you look at how they figure out those numbers. First, the US and Canadian content are shown as one number. There’s no easy way to see how much was from the US alone. Second, they can round up on parts that are 70% US/Canadian and consider them 100% US/Canadian to further muddy the waters.

American University’s Kogod School of Business created an index to better evaluate a car’s status as American-made. Since the goal in buying American is to support the US economy, they factor in seven criteria beyond simply where parts are made and where vehicles are assembled and assign percentage points.

  • Profit Margin: 6 points if an automaker’s headquarters is in the US
  • Labor: 6 points if a model is assembled in the US
  • Research and Development: 6 points if a model is produced by a US company, 3 points if a model is produced by a foreign company but assembled in the US, 1 point if a model is a foreign import
  • Inventory, Capital, Other Expenses: 11 points if a model is assembled in the US
  • Engine: 14 points if the engine is produced in the US
  • Transmission: 7 points if the transmission is produced in the US
  • Body, Chassis, Electrical Components: Maximum of 50 points determined by dividing a model’s AALA score in half

A total of 338 vehicles were included in the index with 56 of them tied with 1 point in dead last at 75th place. Vehicles with automakers headquartered within the US get higher rankings because their profits are more likely to stay here and much of their research and development happens here, too.

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It’s less about simply where a car was made and more about how much the production of the car, from conception to research to assembly benefits the US economy.

The Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, and GMC Acadia tied for first with 90 points. Ford scored second place with the F-150 earning 85 points. Overall,though, GM was the winner with 9 out of the top 10 vehicles on the list.

The highest ranking foreign automaker was Honda with the Accord at 81 points. They might not be what you think of as American-made, but they beat plenty of cars from GM and Ford just the same.

Take a look at the Kogod Made in America Index to see where the rest of the cars ranked and get the breakdown on how many points each car earned in each category.