Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What is an American Car?

It's funny how we are such creatures of habit. In the case of car brands, most of us tend to look at the industry in traditional ways even though it has gone through huge changes in the past decade or so. Ask most people what an American car is and you'll most likely get an answer of "GM, Ford, and Chrysler" or some mixture of their subsidiaries (Chevrolet, Mercury, Dodge, etc). Those who answer this way will most likely think of cars with the badges of Nissan, Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, and Mazda as Japanese and Mercedes, BMW, and Volkswagen as German.

As I already stated, the auto industry has changed. While the above answers would be fairly true had the question been asked in the 1980's, the answer today is much more muddled. The U.S. government began putting higher tariffs on imported vehicles in the 1980's. This led to foreign manufacturers to be incented to build their cars and trucks here in the United States. Meanwhile, the "Big 3" American automakers (GM, Ford, and Chrysler) set up plants in Mexico and Canada to take advantage of cheap labor. So, paradoxically, manufacturers seen as foreign are building as many cars in America as the manufacturers thought of as American. In fact, the large pickup trucks made by Nissan and Toyota (the Titan and Tundra, respectively) were designed and are built and sold exclusively in North America. Orange County, California is now the automobile design capital of the world. Almost any modern car, SUV, or truck you see on the road today was designed in Irvine or somewhere close to it. The Honda Accord is sold world-wide but the Accord you see in the United States is not the same one the rest of the world has. The U.S. Accord is larger. If you want an Accord like the rest of the world, you can buy an Acura TSX.

If you are wondering what cars actually are manufactured in the United States. I've compiled a list (Thank you Autobytel). Most vehicles today are comprised of a certain percentage of foreign parts and this list does not cover that. Note that I include the parent companies and their subsidiaries. Many people aren't aware of how few actual companies there are. Also note that some vehicles by one manufacturer are built by another manufacturer. Such is the case where Dodge builds the Mitsubishi Raider pickup truck, which is, in fact, a modified Dodge Dakota.


  • X5 - Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • Z4 - Spartanburg, South Carolina


  • Sebring Convertible - Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • Sebring Coupe - Normal, Illinois
  • Sebring Sedan - Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • Town & Country - St. Louis, Missouri


  • Caravan - St. Louis, Missouri
  • Dakota - Warren, Michigan
  • Durango - Newark, Delaware
  • Grand Caravan - St. Louis, Missouri
  • Sprinter - Gaffney, South Carolina
  • Stratus Coupe - Normal, Illinois
  • Stratus Sedan - Sterling Heights, Michigan
  • Ram - St. Louis, Missouri and Warren, Michigan
  • Viper - Detroit, Michigan


  • Commander - Detroit, Michigan
  • Grand Cherokee - Detroit, Michigan
  • Liberty - Toledo, Ohio
  • Wrangler - Toledo, Ohio

Daimler-Mercedes Benz

  • M-Class - Vance, Alabama
  • R-Class - Vance, Alabama


  • E-Series - Lorain, Ohio
  • Escape - Kansas City, Missouri and Avon Lake, Ohio
  • Excursion - Kansas City, Missouri
  • Expedition - Wayne, Michigan
  • Explorer - Louisville, Kentucky and Fenton, Missouri
  • F-Series - Dearborn, Michigan; Wayne, Michigan; Kansas City, Missouri; Norfolk, Virginia
  • Five Hundred - Chicago, Illinois
  • Focus - Wayne, Michigan
  • Freestyle - Chicago, Illinois
  • GT - Wixom, Michigan
  • Ranger - Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Taurus - Atlanta, Georgia
  • Thunderbird - Wixom, Michigan

Ford - Lincoln

  • Aviator - Fenton, Missouri
  • LS - Wixom, Michigan
  • Mark LT - Dearborn, Michigan
  • Navigator - Wayne, Michigan
  • Town Car - Wixom, Michigan

Ford - Mercury

  • Mariner - Avon Lake, Ohio
  • Montego - Chicago, Illinois
  • Mountaineer - Louisville, Kentucky and Fenton, Missouri
  • Sable - Atlanta, Georgia

General Motors - Cadillac

  • CTS - Lansing, Michigan
  • DeVille - Hamtramck, Michigan
  • DTS - Hamtramck, Michigan
  • Escalade - Arlington, Texas
  • SRX - Lansing, Michigan
  • STS - Lansing, Michigan
  • XLR - Bowling Green, Kentucky

General Motors - Chevrolet

  • Cobalt - Lordstown, Ohio
  • Colorado - Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Corvette - Bowling Green, Kentucky
  • Express - Wentzville, Missouri
  • Malibu - Kansas City, Missouri
  • Malibu Maxx - Kansas City, Missouri
  • Silverado - Flint, Michigan; Pontiac, Michigan; Ft. Wayne, Indiana
  • SSR - Lansing, Michigan
  • Suburban - Arlington, Texas and ; Janesville, Wisconsin
  • Tahoe - Arlington, Texas and Janesville, Wisconsin
  • TrailBlazer - Moraine, Ohio
  • TrailBlazer EXT - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Uplander - Doraville, Georgia

General Motors - GMC

  • Canyon - Shreveport, Louisiana
  • Envoy - Moraine, Ohio
  • Envoy XL - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Envoy XUV - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  • Savana - Wentzville, Missouri
  • Sierra - Flint, Michigan; Pontiac, Michigan; Ft. Wayne, Indiana
  • Yukon - Arlington, Texas and Janesville, Wisconsin
  • Yukon XL - Arlington, Texas and Janesville, Wisconsin

General Motors - Hummer

  • H1 - Mishawaka, Indiana
  • H2 - Mishawaka, Indiana
  • H3 - Shreveport, Louisiana

General Motors - Pontiac

  • G6 - Orion Township, Michigan
  • Grand Am - Lansing, Michigan
  • Montana SV6 - Doraville, Georgia
  • Solstice - Wilmington, Delaware
  • Sunfire - Lordstown, Ohio
  • Vibe - Fremont, California (by Toyota)

General Motors - Saab

  • 9-7X - Moraine, Ohio

General Motors - Saturn

  • Ion - Spring Hill, Tennessee
  • L-Series - Wilmington, Delaware
  • Relay - Doraville, Georgia
  • Vue - Spring Hill, Tennessee


  • Accord - Marysville, Ohio
  • Civic - East Liberty, Ohio
  • Element - East Liberty, Ohio
  • Odyssey - Lincoln, Alabama
  • Pilot - Lincoln, Alabama

Honda - Acura

  • TL - Marysville, Ohio


  • Sonata - Montgomery, Alabama
  • Santa Fe - Montgomery, Alabama


  • 6 - Flat Rock, Michigan
  • B-Series - Minneapolis, Minnesota (by Ford)
  • Tribute - Kansas City, Missouri (by Ford)


  • Eclipse - Normal, Illinois
  • Endeavor - Normal, Illinois
  • Galant - Normal, Illinois
  • Raider - Warren, Michigan (by Dodge)


  • Altima - Smyrna, Tennessee and Canton, Mississippi
  • Armada - Canton, Mississippi
  • Frontier - Smyrna, Tennessee
  • Maxima - Smyrna, Tennessee
  • Pathfinder - Smyrna, Tennessee
  • Quest - Canton, Mississippi
  • Titan - Canton, Mississippi
  • Xterra - Smyrna, Tennessee

Nissan - Infiniti

  • QX56 - Canton, Mississippi


  • Baja - Lafayette, Indiana
  • B9 Tribeca - Lafayette, Indiana
  • Legacy - Lafayette, Indiana
  • Outback - Lafayette, Indiana


  • Avalon - Georgetown, Kentucky
  • Camry - Georgetown, Kentucky
  • Corolla - Fremont, California
  • Sequoia - Princeton, Indiana
  • Sienna - Princeton, Indiana
  • Tundra - Princeton, Indiana (Soon to be San Antonio, Tx)
  • Tacoma - Fremont, California

You may be thinking that some vehicles are missing on this list. If you were looking for any of the following:

Chevrolet Equinox
Chevrolet HHR
Chevrolet Impala
Chevrolet Tahoe
Chrysler 300
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Dodge Charger
Ford Fusion
Ford Mustang

They aren't on the list because they are built in Mexico or Canada.

You may also have noticed that there are few imported luxury cars made in America. That's because these are high priced vehicles anyways and the tariffs don't represent as much a fraction of their sticker price.

Now, whether the vehicle you drive is American-made or not is a personal decision up to you. I, personally would hate to see virtually all of my car-buying dollars get converted to yen or euros. It's not the only factor for me though. I actually came close to buying a Japanese-built Toyota Rav4 this year. Instead, I ended up buying a U.S. built Jeep that is now of course, branded by a German company.


Erik said...

It's funny when I was looking at cars before I bought my Altima I said something simular to what you wrote but I kept hearing from family and friends oh the Japanese cars are better. I kept saying how a lot of the cars are made in the United States but wasn't believed.

Robert E Wilson said...

For your information, the Altima is a car designed in California (Nissan Design International, headquartered in San Diego, Calif) and only sold in North America.

There is an all-new Altima coming this fall as the 2007 model. It is supposed to be largely superior to both the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry, which happen to be the two best-selling cars in the U.S. I, personally, don't care for Nissan designs (too round in too many places), but they are definitely trying to re-capture their former place as the number 2 Japanese auto company. (Honda had surpassed them some years ago. Toyota has been number 1 for years, and that's not going to change any time soon.)