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What Is An American Car?

What is an American Car?

“Be American, Buy American.” That was a popular bumper sticker from not all that long ago. The Big Three’s dominance of the American car buying market had slipped dramatically to Japanese imports, the Japanese economy looked like a juggernaut threatening the stability of our own economy, and the patriotic cry was to support American industry by buying American cars. Of course, it was easy to make the distinction then; If it was from Ford, GM, or Chrysler it was an American car. Everything else was an import.

The jingoism has died down appreciably since, probably because it’s almost impossible to define what indeed an “American” car is. The line has blurred nearly completely. Let’s take a little quiz. You can probably guess the answer in advance, but it will provoke some thought.

Sedan A is built in the USA, with 80% of its parts sourced from the US and Canada, including its engine.

Sedan B is built in Mexico, with only 30% of its parts sourced from US/Canada, and its engine is also built in Mexico.

Which is the “American” car? Without the badges, you’d have to say Sedan A.

Well, Sedan A is the 2012 Honda Accord, and Sedan B is the 2012 Ford Fusion. So is the Ford really the American car? Sure, the final profit margin garnered with the sale of each car goes to the account of a company in Detroit, but what of the secondary economies along the way? When you buy the Honda, American auto workers are getting paid to build, American suppliers are getting paid for their parts, and tax dollars are going to local economies before a single dime goes to Japan. Which is more patriotic? We’ll leave that judgement to you.


The American Automobile Labeling Act mandates that new car window stickers include the following information:

1. The percentage U.S./Canadian equipment (parts) content;

2. The names of any countries other than the U.S. and Canada which individually contribute 15 percent or more of the equipment content, and the percentage content for each such country (a maximum of two countries);

3. The final assembly point by city and state (where appropriate), and country;

4. The country of origin of the engine;

5. The country of origin of the transmission; and

6. A statement which explains that parts content does not include final assembly (except the engine and transmission), distribution, or other non-parts costs.


If you don’t want to drive from dealership to dealership to figure out which cars are built where, you can download full lists at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) site.

Take a look at the top passenger vehicles built in the US, ranked by the percentage of content from US and Canada:

Toyota Avalon: 85%

Toyota Sienna: 80%

Honda Accord: 80%

Honda Crosstour: 80%

Ford Expedition: 80%

Lincoln Navigator: 80% 

Surprised that four of the top six are Japanese brands? Where are All-American vehicles like the Chevrolet Impala and Camaro or Dodge Caravan? In Canada, that’s where. The next car on the list is the Chrysler 200 Convertible, made in the US and with 79% local content. But Chrysler is owned by a Fiat, an Italian company. What are we to make of that? 

Realistically, Ford and GM are also more than just US companies. With long-standing operations around the globe, including entire product lines unique to other countries, the General and Blue Oval are clearly global entities. 

Whatever your patriotic leanings may be on auto buying, start your research at AutoBuying101.com.