GM assembly line

Who's the Most 'American' Automaker?

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The latest numbers are in and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the most American-made car for 2012 is the Toyota Avalon. Although that grabbed headlines, it was only one model. What about the industry as a whole?

The automotive industry is a many-headed beast. A car begins as base materials, which are then made into components, which are then assembled in a factory, and then taken to a dealership where they are sold to the consumer. Each of these steps means at least one job.

There are people working directly for the automakers themselves, plus those working for suppliers, plus those working in the towns and cities around the plants whose economies depend on the manufacturing jobs, etc. Estimates from The Level Field Institute, an analysis firm, say that for every employee working directly at an auto manufacturing plant, nine other Americans are employed in support jobs. Obviously, the number of American jobs dependent on automaking are not easily counted.

Beyond that, there is also the question of which automaker makes the most of their American-sold cars here in the U.S., which one sells more cars than the others, and other metrics. Clearly we can't just say "this car is the most Made in America auto out there." There's more to it than that.

We live in a global economy and few industries are as globalized as auto manufacturing. General Motors' Buick brand, for example, sells more cars in China than it does in the U.S. Chrysler, by contrast, only builds one model in the U.S. (the 200), the rest are made elsewhere. Fisker, much-maligned by the Republicans, is actually more American-made than are many of the Detroit 3's machines.

Going through all of these numbers, it becomes apparent that judging an automaker by only one metric to make it "Most American" is not exactly accurate. For example, here are the top five most American-made cars for 2012, according to NHTSA numbers:

1) Toyota Avalon (85%)
2) Chevrolet Express / GMC Savana (82%)
3) Toyota Sienna (80%), Honda Accord (80%), Honda Crosstour (80%), Ford Expedition (80%),
4) Chrysler 200 Convertible (79%)
5) Jeep Liberty (76%)

That's only the beginning, though. It doesn't say everything. Next, we can look at which automakers build the most models in the U.S. Consumer Reports released a list in 2011 that puts General Motors (including all nameplates) at 27, Ford at 14, Chrysler at 12, Honda at 10, Toyota at 9, and Nissan at 7. If you remove re-badged vehicles from the pool (i.e. a GMC 3500 and Chevrolet 3500), then the list shortens somewhat to make GM and Ford closer at 17 and 12, Chrysler at 9, Honda at 9, and Toyota and Nissan still at 9 and 7 respectively. For those wondering, a total of 101 models of vehicle are built in the U.S. overall.


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A reader emailed me with the following question: This is probably the best break down I have ever seen, but two things that everyone keeps out for some reason are: 1. Where is the auto makers corporate headquarters, in what stock market are their shares sold and traded on? Which country benefits from their taxes? and 2. What about all of the jobs on the front end? The jobs in engineering (structural, engine/powertrain, body, interior, etc.) safety, design, testing, management...... You have my e-mail address; I would love to hear back on these two areas. If I were a betting man, I would say that the Detroit three move to 1, 2, and 3 with no problem. To which I replied: Nope. Where headquarters is located means little, as this is merely where the top level (smallest portion) of profits end up. Economically, where the JOBS are is what matters, not where the final profit goes. Remember that for every job created in a U.S. automotive plant, 9 or more jobs are created to supply that job - suppliers, services for the employee, marketing, sales, and so forth. This is why it's far more important to note where the vehicle is being made than it is to worry about where it's corporate HQ is located. Most Toyota design/development for North American sales is done in California. Nissan did most of there's in Tennessee and New York until the opening of their new facility in Silicon Valley, which will take over much of it (they're cutting that NY office down as it's a costly place to do business). Honda designs in Canada and Detroit. All companies selling in the U.S. are incorporated here (hence it's Nissan North America, Honda of America, and so forth) and trade on the New York exchanges. By law, all safety and other testing must be done in the U.S. for U.S. sales, so all manufacturers who sell here do their testing here. Since manufacture here usually involves a lot of North American sourcing for components as well, initial testing of those components is conducted here too.
American auto manufacturers employ more Americans than the big three Japanese auto makers based in the USA. Enough said. Want the numbers? Here they are: Detroit Three vs. Japanese Three: 181,000 to 67,000 Read it and weep, or cry over your rice if you are a Jap car lover. Want even MORE numbers? HAHA Here ya go: GM employs 77,000 Americans. Chrysler's U.S. employment totals 39,200. Ford employs 65,000. Japanese automakers based in the USA produced 34 percent of the 8.7 million vehicles built in the U.S. Hello? That's barely more than 1/3. Wake up ya commy bastards.