As usual the most popular question we get is “what car should I buy?” Answering this question usually requires us to identify the following criteria for the buyer:
- Overall purchase budget
- How the vehicle will be used
- Who will be riding in the vehicle
- Fuel economy concerns
- Annual repair budget or personal mechanical ability
Answering these questions will usually get us pretty close to an answer. Notice that make/model/year aren’t part of the criteria. We recommend the best vehicle for the budget that fits the criteria, even if it might be a 20 year old Buick. But recently after giving a person our picks of what they should buy we were met with a response of “but I only want an American car”.
That isn’t an easy answer in today’s automotive landscape. In fact, it is quite complicated once you take into account the difference between “making” an automobile and “assembling” an automobile. Edmunds has a fantastic article here that does a great job breaking down the nuts and bolts of what goes into creating an “American” car.
Made In America
Just for fun let’s take a look at a list of the vehicles currently being built in the United States by the major automakers. This isn’t a 100% complete list, but it will give you a good idea. First the “Big 3” American automakers:
|Chrysler||Jeep Grand Cherokee|
|Chrysler||Jeep Wrangler Unlimited|
|Ford||Ford Super Duty|
|General Motors||Buick Enclave|
|General Motors||Buick LaCrosse|
|General Motors||Buick Verano|
|General Motors||Cadillac ATS|
|General Motors||Cadillac CT6|
|General Motors||Cadillac CTS|
|General Motors||Cadillac ELR|
|General Motors||Cadillac Escalade|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Camaro|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Colorado|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Equinox|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Express|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Impala|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Malibu|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Silverado|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Sonic|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Suburban|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Tahoe|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Traverse|
|General Motors||Chevrolet Volt|
|General Motors||GMC Acadia|
|General Motors||GMC Canyon|
|General Motors||GMC Savana|
|General Motors||GMC Sierra|
|General Motors||GMC Yukon|
|General Motors||GMC Yukon XL|
And now the foreign automakers:
|Mercedes-Benz||Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe|
|Mercedes-Benz||Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV|
|Mercedes-Benz||Mercedes-Benz GLS SUV|
Let’s take a look at a few examples. Are you in the market for a new American truck? Excellent! the RAM 1500 is built in Warren, Michigan. But wait, you want a bit more capacity so maybe you want to step up to a RAM 2500. Same brand, just a bit more payload, shouldn’t make a difference, right? Wrong, the RAM 2500 is built at the Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Coahuila, Mexico. ¡Ay, caramba!
Meanwhile Toyota is cranking out Tundra pickups in Texas, Nissan is building Titan pickups in Mississippi, and Honda is ramping up production of Ridgeline pickups in Alabama. All three of these “foreign” trucks were designed specifically for the North American market and are not sold elsewhere in the world.
While being American built, the Dodge Dart isn’t exactly home grown. The Dodge Dart rides on a Fiat designed chassis that first showed up in the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. Basically it and its Chrysler 200 twin are re-skinned Fiats that are made in America. And remember, Dodge is part of FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) which is an Italian company, so even Dodge isn’t an “American” brand anymore. That’s a tough pill to swallow coming from someone who owns a ’75 Plymouth Duster.
Starting to get the picture? When you start looking at badge engineering things can get really interesting. That used Pontiac Vibe you bought your kid to drive to college is just a Toyota Matrix (which is just a Corolla wagon), but at least it was built in the U.S.A. at the NUMMI plant in Fremot, California. Ford did the same thing with the first gen Mercury Villager van, which was just a Nissan Quest assembled in Avon Lake, Ohio. Japanese engineering, Japanese parts, assembled in the U.S.A. with an American car company badge on the front. That line between “domestic” and “import” is starting to look pretty blurry isn’t it.
Thinking Beyond The Badge
The point of this article is to make you think about more than just the name badge on the trunk of your car. You should think about what you need in a vehicle and your specific situation. Weight that need with reliability research and your own automobile budget. If the true origin of your vehicle means a lot to you, you are going to need to do a lot more homework than just a name. The worldwide growth of the automotive industry has lead to some amazing innovations, but it has also muddied the waters as to what is and is not an “American car.”