As car companies have morphed into multinationals, it has gotten difficult to discern what qualifies as an American car.

Walking around a car show in Washington D.C. earlier this year, Frank DuBois, a professor of international business at nearby American University, couldn't help but notice the "Made In America" stickers plastered all over a Toyota Tundra pickup truck. The stickers indeed are accurate. Toyota assembles the Tundra in San Antonio, Texas, and the vehicle's engine and transmission are produced in the United States, as well. But in DuBois' view, the advertisements provided a simplified answer to a complicated question.

In the automotive realm, the practice of buying American is one that's open to interpretation. Does buying American mean buying a Chrysler? Because the company has merged with Italian-owned Fiat. Does it mean buying a Ford Fiesta assembled in Mexico? A BMW assembled in South Carolina? A Tundra built in San Antonio, with much of its research and development conducted in Japan?

DuBois developed the "Made In America Auto Index" to help sort through the answers to those questions.

As car companies have morphed into multinational corporations that operate on a global scale, it has gotten more difficult than ever to discern what qualifies as an American car. In his analysis, DuBois ranks vehicles in seven separate categories, weighing factors such as assembly locations, amount of domestic content included, where research and development is conducted and overall economic impact in the US.

Ford's F-Series pickup line and the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray rank as the 'Most American' cars in this year's index, the results of which were released Thursday. Both cars scored an 87.5 in the 100-point index.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - rear, red

Tesla Motors is ranked for the first time, debuting in 13th place with a 77.5 overall ranking.

Results were both predictable and surprising: Vehicles produced by General Motors ranked as eight of the Top 10 most-American models, and cars produced by the traditional Big Three took the top 32 positions among the 318 models ranked. Vehicles like the Honda Odyssey (78.5) and Toyota Camry (78.5) – both assembled in the US – also scored well, far ahead of models like the Ford Fusion (34) and Chevrolet Spark (16). (Full rankings and methodology here).

Tesla Motors is ranked for the first time in the 2014 edition of Made In America Index. It debuts in a tie for 13th place with a 77.5 overall ranking. The Model S wins points for having its transmission produced in the US, having research and development in the US and having its labor focused here, and once Tesla manufactures batteries in the US, DuBois said Model S is poised to rise in the rankings.

But even the "Most American" cars, the analysis underscores, aren't entirely American.

DuBois gives weight to where the engine and trans are built, final assembly points and benefits to the US economy.

"What you think about with this is, 'Is there truly a car anywhere in the world that is 100-percent local content?," DuBois, a professor at American's Kogod School of Business asked. "Maybe a Bentley or Ferrari, something at the upper echelon. But what this really shows is this is a very globalized industry, and a lot of strategies companies are using are to centralize production of components. It's much more efficient to produce them in a single facility than disperse them all over the place."

DuBois' method gives weight to the locations where the engine and transmission are built, final assembly points and benefits to the US economy, such as where profits are returned. He believes his method is a more accurate measure than the American Automotive Labeling Act information that appears alongside a new car's window sticker.

Data collected through that law, he said, has limitations. Manufacturers don't differentiate between US and Canadian products, the law allows automakers to round up from 70 to 100 percent to calculate domestic content, and in some cases, cars with little US content may be allowed to use 'Made in America' labels if they're made on the same lines as cars with high US content.

"So consumers have to be careful," DuBois said. "I tell them to look at the VIN decoder, and you can tell where the car was finally assembled."

Underlying the particulars of each model, he reminds Autoblog that the biggest takeaway from his analysis was that – for better or worse, depending on your perspective – more companies are manufacturing automotive parts or assembling cars in the US because it has become an inexpensive location to do so. For example, General Motors moved production of the Chevy Camaro from Canada to Lansing, Michigan, and BMW is expanding its presence in South Carolina, from which it will even export some cars to Germany.

"I think the great story about the American auto industry is we didn't give it up for dead when we could have, and it's come back stronger than ever," DuBois said.


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      zoom_zoom_zoom
      • 8 Months Ago
      This is clearly a propaganda piece funded in D.C. to justify they bailout. Look at some of the "Chicago Style" numbers. They gave the Buick Regal the maximum # of points possible for R&D in the USA. The R&D was done in Germany, and most of the first production was done in Germany. Contrast for instance the Honda Odyssey. The Odyssey is 100% R%D in the USA, yet not given the points. Chicago Style gaming, or as my mother would call, out right lies.
      zoom_zoom_zoom
      • 8 Months Ago
      Did someone forget to tell this professor that Chrysler was sold to Fiat making the headquarters in Italy!
      zoom_zoom_zoom
      • 8 Months Ago
      not this dumbass kogod survey again.
      vipertv
      • 8 Months Ago
      I don't think it's about where the vehicles are being made—it's where the profits from those vehicles are going. That has always been my point with foreign companies building stateside...
        Toronto St. Pats
        • 8 Months Ago
        @vipertv
        So you're fine with an American company building cars in Mexico giving jobs to Mexicans but as long as the American CEO's get filthy rich. Yeah that's self-defeatism 101.
          Sir Duke
          • 8 Months Ago
          @Toronto St. Pats
          Sometimes I laugh until it hurts, at the blind adherence to "norms", customs and ideaology of some who posts here. These people are programmed (brainwashed) from birth, and can't, don't or won't ever stop to think for themselves.
      Kit
      • 8 Months Ago
      "A Tundra built in San Antonio, with much of its research and development conducted in Japan?" Hey Autoblog, better tell the TEMA members in Ann Arbor, Michigan they're part of Japan now, since that is where the research and development of the Tundra began. The Tundra is built AND engineered in the US. For crying out loud, the chief engineer himself is a cattle rancher who lives in Texas.
        Bruce Lee
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Kit
        This study is a joke for exactly this reason-it just makes the assumption that car company's HQ locations are where the R&D is conducted when all multinational automakers have R&D centers all around the world. GM does a ton of R&D in Korea and China and Toyota does a lot of R&D in the US so it's plain insane to claim that just because the HQ is in one place then all the R&D must be done there. By that logic Detroit would be a bustling economy because all the engineering for all the Big 3 vehicles would all be done there. That's some seriously crackpot logic.
      Toronto St. Pats
      • 8 Months Ago
      I wanted to comment on this story last night, but the ignition fell out of my computer. Well metaphorically speaking.
      Bruce Lee
      • 8 Months Ago
      I don't think they understand how profit margins work for multinationals, it's insanely over-simplistic to claim that just because a company is headquartered somewhere that that's where the profits go, most multinationals don't like to repatriate profits because they take huge tax hits when trying to move that kind of money from country A to country B. That's why American multinationals keep their profits abroad and reinvest them. When GM sells a ton of Buicks in China those profits are largely going to be used towards R&D in China, advertising in China, etc. not just repatriated to the US-that's a rare occurrence because there's huge tax penalties to repatriate the money. And multinationals are owned by people in many countries, people all around the world own GM shares so to claim that the profits go back to any one country is rather silly, you would have to look at worldwide holdings of a particular company, then figure out how much of their overseas profits they actually repatriate, etc. This rank list is a joke with the methodology they used, they basically double weighted where the headquarters are without actually bothering to look at where the profits or R&D money go. Money earned by foreign companies in the US is usually reinvested in US operations to avoid tax hits, which is why we get R&D centers here and why GM has R&D centers all around the world. It's equally idiotic as saying that just because GM is based in Detroit, Detroit must be the place getting all the benefits of GM's worldwide sales. If that were the case then Detroit would be a booming economy, except it's the opposite. The money GM or any automaker makes abroad largely STAYS abroad.
      rcavaretti
      • 8 Months Ago
      Not a perfect scaling system. Why? Take this: 1. Profit Margin: Where the automaker’s global headquarters is located. This is relevant as profits from cars return to the shareholders in the home country. (6 percent) I own two mutual funds that hold automobile manufacturer stock (even Tesla at one point). That makes me a shareholder and some of those profits go directly to me. And I don't live anywhere near the home country.
      CadiVetteFerrari
      • 8 Months Ago
      I look it at from where ultimately what currency the profits are being converted to and, in turn, where the world headquarters are for the manufacturer. I don't care that a BMW is designed and built in the Carolinas. Ultimately, as you go up the food chain, the money will find its way back to Germany.
        dacelbot
        • 8 Months Ago
        @CadiVetteFerrari
        But how does that matter really? I mean, yes, the person who makes the most money will be in Germany, but having jobs in America is the reason to buy American and having a BMW factory in Carolina creates far, far more jobs then having the CEO of Ford be located in Detroit while the factory is in Mexico.
      Famsert
      • 8 Months Ago
      Did this moronic author actually try to convince anyone that being headquartered in a country means a profit returns there? They do realize some millionaire Arab or Chinese can invest in Ford and reap from the profits right? They do realize Ford (like all other multi-national corporations) engage in tons of tricky accounting practices/loopholes to pay the least amount tax possible and that their Ford divisions in other countries will be paying tax to their respective governments too. Yeesh.
        visconti24
        • 8 Months Ago
        @Famsert
        You are right Famsert. The world is not a quaint and neat little place. Profits from the sale of a BMW assembled in the US by American workers may not end up in Germany at BMW's headquarters. A great chunk of it ends up in the pockets of BMW's largest stockholders, the Quandts. And Susanne Quandt's (a German with Swiss nationality) share may have been invested in her vast cellulose tree farms in Brazil where she spends a great deal of time. Or she may invest it in New York real estate (she owns vast holdings there).
      R.t Voll
      • 8 Months Ago
      There is some serious vote flipping going on in this thread.
        thedriveatfive
        • 8 Months Ago
        @R.t Voll
        Yep, it seems to happen in any politically charged thread. Some times bias is clear.
      • 8 Months Ago
      [blocked]
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