Are ‘American-Made’ Cars Still a Big Deal?


As it turns out, no- not to everyone. The once-pronounced gap between “foreign” and “domestic” vehicles has narrowed. Many car brand companies are global companies, moving money, parts and increasingly, plants, beyond their own borders. Purchasing a Toyota no longer guarantees a car manufactured in Japan. Do not be misled, however; this does not mean there is still not a very vocal contingent of North Americans that will lobby until they (or you) are blue in the face with the many reasons why you should buy a car from one of the Big Three. Nevertheless, what it does mean is that some of the lines that once demarcated foreign from domestic vehicles are blurred.

American Made Cars

There will always be loyalists- to a make, to a model, to a nation. But in this ever-increasing global economy and milieu, the world’s citizens are becoming less focused on the origin of a car whether it be an American made car or other and more concerned with its functionality, cost, reliability and resale. The gap in quality and reliability has somewhat narrowed over the last several years.

Though some may not like to hear it, foreign cars continue to dominate when it comes to dependability. According to the 2015 J.D. Power U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study, of the 19 brands above industry average, 8 of them are foreign cars. Of the top ten brands, four are a foreign make. Even more telling, perhaps, is that only one in the bottom ten is a foreign car.

Similarly, Consumer Reports’ 2015 Reliability Study places only Buick in its top ten, with the rest of the Big Three in the bottom half of the rankings. This is not good news for some. European brands finished ahead of most domestic cars, but behind those from Asia. Even Tesla dropped from average to below average over the last three model years. Over 1 400 owners of the Model S were polled for that one. Despite very high results on the road test, Consumer Reports cannot recommend the Tesla as it just didn’t perform when it came to dependability.

As for mileage, it’s still not much of a competition. The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) index is the result of manufacturers giving their mileage numbers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who passes it onto the EPA for verification. Look it up and you’ll see the walloping that domestic cars are getting when held up against the mileage of foreign vehicles.

But it’s an argument that loves to be had. Does a vehicle qualify as “American-made” when it has at least 50% of its parts made in America? What percent of a car qualifies it as foreign? Does it matter where it is assembled? In whose factory? And by whom? Does it depend on where that company’s headquarters are? The companies that manufacture vehicles are global companies. From headquarter offices, to assembly plants, to distribution networks, to franchise owners, these companies end up creating cash flow at a variety of levels and in a variety of locations. They (hopefully) pay taxes in more than one country. They buy supplies locally and source parts from as nearby as they can (which, lucky for us, results in lower sticker prices!) You need to decide how much you care about these issues. If the argument of domestic vs. foreign matters to you, then what kind of a car you invest in matters for you. But if it doesn’t, those are moot points.

Ultimately, you will have to make a choice for your next car. After that, you will have to live with it. The only advice I dare throw your way is to remind you to do your homework. Ask around- even digital word-of-mouth (aka, online reviews) will be a great help for you in choosing a good fit. Don’t be afraid to test drive vehicles, or even rent them for a week from a local car rental company. You want to trust the car you buy, regardless of where it was made. Good luck! (By the way, if you’re curious, look at your car’s vehicle identification number on the manufacturer’s label. If it begins with a 1, 4 or 5, it was assembled in North America).

  • Christopher Kuhn

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