Readers who have been reading this column over the years know that I’m a big fan of the domestic automobile industry. That is, what’s left of it. While I faltered a couple of times in my buying choices in the past and bought a foreign car, for the most part I’ve owned only Detroit Three vehicles. GM, Ford and what was once Chrysler for a long time wore the Big Three tag in the media. Nowadays, because they aren’t big anymore, they are the Detroit Three. Call me nationalistic but I have always supported the home team and thought it important to buy U.S. autos so as to keep jobs and profits here in our country. Whether it was nationalism or not, until the import invasion started in the 1950s, most Americans felt the same way as me. I recall in my youth when GM held over 50 percent of the domestic market, with Ford following with about 25 percent and Chrysler held between 10 and 15 percent. GM was so omnipresent in the market that in the early 1960s that the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division was actually studying the possibility of splitting up the giant automaker.
You can point a finger at any number of reasons why the Domestic Three are now only a shadow of what they once were. Certainly they are not a dominant force in the automotive industry. Whatever the reason, the three U.S. automakers have gone from owning nearly 100 percent of the U.S. auto market in the 1950s to now trying to hold on to 44 percent, and even that low figure is tenuous at best. GM earns 17, Ford 14 and FCA 13 percent of U.S. auto market presently. The blame game on why the U.S. automakers slipped so precipitously has been going on forever. Some fingers point at the invasion of lower-priced imports. Others say Detroit didn’t keep up with the foreign competition in the race to build quality vehicles. The labor unions and their demands for high wages are blamed for forcing the automakers to close factories here in the U.S. and moving to Mexico, where labor costs are much lower. Entrenched CEOs and board chairmen in the Detroit Three boardrooms and executive suites get their criticism as well for being sluggish in recognizing the change in car buyers’ habits over many decades and not responding with up-to-date and competitive vehicles.
So the present U.S. auto market is what it is. The Detroit Three now builds and sells just under two in four vehicles sold annually. Thankfully, you still have a number of domestic nameplates to pick from. Some, like Jeep, Ford, Chevrolet, GMC and Ram are doing pretty well in the sales race. But others, like Buick, Cadillac, Lincoln, Chrysler and Dodge, are in a struggle to stay relevant. You might notice that the four domestic brands that are the strong survivors are all being lifted up by being makers of trucks, especially pick-ups and crossovers. Those brands struggling to find buyers are best known for their sedans, and as we know car buyers are abandoning that market in droves.
If a new car buyer’s goal is to try and purchase a new domestic vehicle with a high percentage of U.S.-supplied content, the selection process takes on a whole new complexion. If you, like me, want to continue to do your part in supporting the Domestic Three, then you need to do a little research because what may appear to be an all-American brand may actually have less U.S. content than many of the vehicles being sold by a foreign automaker.
I went online to Cars.com for a list of the top 10 vehicles that are sold here in our country with the highest U.S. content. Before I reveal the top 10, I want to mention that two 2018 top 10 domestic brands dropped off the list in 2019 because they were discontinued. Both the Ford Taurus and the Chevrolet Volt are out of production, and both were high U.S. content vehicles.
At the top of the Cars.com 2019 list included four U.S. and six foreign nameplates. At the top of the list with the highest U.S. content of all vehicles sold in the U.S. is the Jeep Cherokee crossover, built in Belvidere, Ill. To me, it being a Jeep isn’t a big surprise but I am surprised it wasn’t the Toledo-built Wrangler. This rugged, All-American nameplate doesn’t even appear in the top 10. Following the Cherokee in second, third and fourth place are vehicles built in the American Honda Motor Company’s Lincoln assembly plant in Alabama. The Honda Odyssey, Ridgeline pickup and Passport crossover are only built here in the U.S. Not surprisingly, another All-American nameplate, the Chevrolet Corvette, is in the number five spot. It is built in Bowling Green, Ky. at a dedicated GM assembly plant.
The balance of the top 10 recipients (with their assembly plant noted in parenthesis) are the Acura MDX crossover (East Liberty, Ohio), the Honda Pilot crossover (East Liberty, Ohio), Chevrolet Colorado pickup (Wentzville, Mo.), GMC Canyon pickup (Wentzville, Mo.) and Acura RDX crossover (East Liberty, Ohio).
When I went online to find a top 10 list, I found a number of sites and they didn’t all agree completely with the Cars.com list. This is understandable because each source used different criteria for making their selections. So what qualifies as American-made? It’s complicated. Auto parts are sourced both here in the U.S. and some imported from around the world. Some automakers assemble their cars in the states but might manufacture the vehicle’s drivetrain in Mexico, Korea or maybe the European Union. The index used by these top 10 sources measure such things as where the car is manufactured, which has the most American parts, and some even look at American factory job numbers. Further assessment must be made of the percentage of parts in each vehicle that are made in the U.S., the origin of the engine and transmission and where the cars and trucks are assembled.
It’s complicated to determine just which vehicle is the most “American” in content. So these lists help give us an idea of what cars are American in name only, or if they are truly American-sourced. When I made the decision to buy my current car, a Buick Verano, I was totally aware that it was an Opel Astra that was conceived and designed in Germany. But GM made points with me by deciding to build the car here in the U.S. at the Orion Assembly plant located just north of Detroit. Chances are the engine and transmission were built in Germany, as were other parts as well. I didn’t really care because I knew the profit of the sale would end up in the coffers of GM in Detroit, not a foreign-owned automaker. It also meant that the labor that assembled the car was not only American, they were Michiganders who live near where I grew up. Somehow that knowledge made my purchase easy to make.
• Trivia answer: Actually it’s built in two countries: Spain and Turkey. The next generation TC will be built in Mexico.
Dar Davis founded the Lake Bluff Concours and chaired the event for many years. He has been writing this column since 1999. He can be reached at email@example.com.