Problem is, they aren’t just any cars, but vehicles that wear domestic collars, like Chevy and Ford, institutions in the annals of American Automobilia, legends on the track and in the buff books. Muscle cars, SUVs and sedans, each one All-American on the outside, from the badge to the reputation and the marketing spin, but all of them about as American as bratwurst. And it’s not we automotive scribes who claim it, but our very own government. Thanks to the American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA), a vehicle assembled in the US must also be made of US/Canadian parts and content - least 75 percent – or, according to the wizards in Washington, it’s not “Made in the USA.” Designed to protect domestic bragging rights for American companies, the law has had the opposite effect, as domestic automakers search for cheaper parts over the border, while “import” automakers get busy building assembly plants Stateside. They’ve also brought in their own parts system, and the result has been steady gains in the percentage of parts sourced in America.
It’s worked. Today, the Toyota Camry is one of the most American cars you can buy, more American than even the Ford Mustang. There’s more, too, much more, enough for us to compile a list of All-American “Imports” -- cars you think are American, but aren’t. The list includes the ‘Stang, and such apple pie marquees as the Chevrolet Tahoe, Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300. Some are made here, but carry fewer than the AALA’s mandated 75 percent parts mandate. Others are built in Canada, or Mexico. For the purpose of this list, we took the top sellers for 2006 with domestic nameplates that were either assembled elsewhere, or failed the AALA’s requirement. With some vehicles assembled in multiple locations, we kept the list to vehicles assembled in one location. For example, the Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan is built in the United States and Canada. In this case, along with the Dodge Ram, we chose the US plant as the home locations. Shoppers should know, however, that Chrysler’s minivans are basically split by wheelbase: the long-wheelbase versions, or “Stow and Go” models, are built in Canada, while the short-wheelbase vehicles are assembled in St. Louis, Missouri. We also disqualified vehicles that face elimination by 2009, thus disqualifying the Pontiac Grand Prix. For poncho fans out there, the Grand Prix is built in Canada, with 92 percent US-sourced plants.
It’s simple: in order to be “American Made,” a vehicle must be assembled here, with 75 percent of its content sourced from the US. The top selling cars that failed the test, in alphabetical order:
It’s enough to send a good ol’ boy off on a beer-soaked crying jag, and then straight to his local Honda dealer. And that’s a good thing. As automakers continue to turn to global solutions in the manufacture and assembly of vehicles, fewer cars can realistically claim one source of origin. Indeed, if car buyers want to buy cars “Made in America,” they should focus on cars assembled here (not Canada or Mexico), with a healthy amount of US content. These are the cars that matter, because they support local economies and put Americans to work.
Ford Escape Hybrid: America’s first hybrid SUV isn’t so American after all, with just slightly more than 40 percent of its parts sourced in the US. You can thank many of those hybrid parts – they’re from Japan.
Chevrolet Aveo: That great fuel economy reported by General Motors is at least partially due to the Chevrolet Aveo – a Daewoo subcompact wearing a bow tie.
Cadillac Escalade: Much of that bling comes from Mexico, fellas, about 30 percent. So the Escalade – along with GM stablemates such as the Suburban, Yukon, Avalanche – doesn’t make the cut as American made. You could write a rap song about that little fact.
Okay. Perhaps it’s just a matter of miles, but then again – there’s a border there for a reason, and those Canadians are sure particular about us Americans coming over and claiming their production as US. Really – it is a bit arrogant. And, the fact is, the Chevrolet Impala may be made by mostly US parts, but it’s nonetheless built in Oh, Canada.
Let’s call it a polite American.
Chrysler PT Cruiser
Hey – retro never gets old. Poor sales do get old, however, so look for the PT Cruiser to get a thorough redesign in the near future, with a new powertrain lineup and significant changes to its famous design.
Like the Chrysler 300, the Charger has been well-received as an exciting new car, enjoying critical pleasure in its power (R/T models, especially) style, while getting a little stick for an interior that could use a bit more refinement. While the style and the legacy are All-American, sadly, the vehicle itself sings a mean rendition of Oh, Canada.
But wait a sec. It’s not an American sedan. It’s built in Mexico, sourced by only 30 percent American parts, and based on a stretched Mazda6. Confused? Well, we’re pretty sure that cool three-bar grille is American.
Just how the most American of American cars ended up on this list should be the subject of a Congressional Hearing, but then – Congress is the institution that enacted the silly American Automobile Labeling Act. According to the Act, cars must be made of 75 percent US parts, and the Mustang registers at a paltry 65 percent, Canada included.
Perhaps we should call it Le Mustang.
At least it’s still assembled in Michigan. Consider, though, that if you want to buy a more American car than the Mustang – the Mustang -- try the Camry, the Accord, the Avalon, the Corolla…
Yikes. When something as iconic as the Mustang is unable to claim All-American status, it’s time to build a bomb shelter in the backyard. Redesigned for the 2005 model year, the Mustang has been a red, white and blue smash for around 40 years. And now, it’s an import. Please – keep it a secret from your Moms and Dads. It’s cruel to make old people cry.
Photos courtesy of the Automakers