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What Does It Mean To Buy An “American Car” Today?

2014 Toyota Tundra CrewMax is an American car

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 Chrysler 200
Chrysler Dodge Dart
Chrysler Dodge Durango
Chrysler Dodge Viper
Chrysler Jeep Cherokee
Chrysler Jeep Compass
Chrysler Jeep Grand Cherokee
Chrysler Jeep Patriot
Chrysler Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Chrysler Jeep Wrangler,
Chrysler Ram 1500
Ford Ford C-MAX
Ford Ford Econoline
Ford Ford Escape,
Ford Ford Expedition
Ford Ford Explorer
Ford Ford F-150
Ford Ford Focus
Ford Ford Fusion
Ford Ford Mustang,
Ford Ford Super Duty
Ford Ford Taurus
Ford Ford Transit
Ford Lincoln MKC
Ford Lincoln MKS
Ford Lincoln Navigator
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 Corvette
General Motors Cruze
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:



Honda Acura MDX
Honda Acura NSX
Honda Acura RDX
Honda Honda Civic
Honda Honda CR-V
Honda Honda Crosstour
Honda Honda Odyssey
Honda Honda Pilot
Honda Honda Ridgeline
Hyundai Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai Hyundai Sonata
Kia Kia Optima
Kia Kia Sorento
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz C-Class
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLE Coupe
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLE SUV
Mercedes-Benz Mercedes-Benz GLS SUV
Nissan Infiniti QX60
Nissan Nissan Altima
Nissan Nissan Armada
Nissan Nissan Frontier
Nissan Nissan Leaf
Nissan Nissan Maxima
Nissan Nissan Murano
Nissan Nissan NV
Nissan Nissan Pathfinder
Nissan Nissan Rogue
Nissan Nissan Titan
Toyota Lexus ES
Toyota Toyota Avalon
Toyota Toyota Camry
Toyota Toyota Corolla
Toyota Toyota Highlander
Toyota Toyota Sequoia
Toyota Toyota Sienna
Toyota Toyota Tacoma
Toyota Toyota Tundra
Toyota Toyota Venza
Volkswagen Volkswagen Passat


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.”