If you drive an American-brand car, you probably (and quite reasonably) assume it was built here in the USA -- just as an import car would (you'd think) have been manufactured in a different country.

But don't always judge a book by its cover … or in this case, by the name on the fender.

Your "import" car could have been built right here in the United States -- and by American workers. And that "domestic" model your neighbor just bought might very well have been assembled outside the USA -- by non-American workers.

Or to make matters even more confusing, it might have been built in both places.

Maybe the body was built here, but the engine or transmission came from outside the United States. The car itself could even be a kind of hybrid -- although not the gas-electric kind. Perhaps it shares its mechanical underthings (chassis, suspension bits, etc.) with an import-brand car. Or maybe it's an import in name only -- a domestic-built model re-sold by another automaker under its own brand name.

To give you a better understanding of where some of the more popular cars on U.S. roads are built, here are some interesting things to consider:

• The best-selling passenger car in the United States is a Japanese-brand car, the Toyota Camry. But the "imported" Camry is actually built in America -- at Toyota's plant in Kentucky.

• Ford's best-selling F-Series pickup, meanwhile, is built at a plant in Cuautitlán Izcalli, Mexico, as well as in other plants throughout North America.

• GM's popular Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon SUVs are also assembled south of the border -- at GM's Toluca, Mexico, plant.

• German automaker BMW has a large assembly plant in Spartanburg, S.C., where the 3 Series sport sedan, Z4 roadster and X5 sport-ute are built -- by American, not German, workers.

• Honda has six facilities in Ohio -- including plants in Anna, East Liberty and Marysville. The Accord, Civic and Element SUV sold here are built stateside -- not somewhere in the Pacific Rim.

Now that you have digested all of that, let’s take a look at some of the partnerships that have helped change the definition of what a domestic or import car really is.

• GM has bought engines from Japanese automakers -- and GM has sold its highly regarded hydra-matic transmissions to car companies all over the world; ditto its Harrison AC systems.

• For a number of years, GM was partnered with Toyota -- and models like the Toyota Corolla and Geo/Chevy Prizm were essentially the same car. Just as the Toyota Matrix and Pontiac Vibe are today.

Were those cars imports -- or domestics? Let’s take a look at some others:

• Ford is partnered with Mazda; both the Ranger pickup and Escape SUV have sheet metal cousins in the Mazda B-Series pickup and Tribute SUV.

• Ford uses technology acquired/licensed from Toyota in its hybrid vehicles, making its hybrid Escape SUV a true hybrid -- of parts, that is. And then you have the Volvo S80 and Ford Five Hundred, which share their DNA (and many parts).

• Even the popular Chrysler 300 isn’t what you might think. It shares its underlying platform (but not its engines) with the Mercedes E-Class sedan … bet you didn’t know that one.

At this point I’m sure you get the picture … a car isn’t always what it says it is.

Whether vehicles from the Big Three are assembled partially or completely in Mexico, Michigan or someplace in between doesn't make them any less "American." But the flip side of that coin is that import-brand cars assembled entirely (or nearly so) in the United States, by American workers, are arguably just as "domestic."

So that begs the question, if an American car is made outside the country and an import car is made here, should you consider both of them American?

Share This Photo X