By on July 3, 2015

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Today is the beginning of the Independence Day holiday in America, which is this beautiful historical moment where we all take a few days off work and light things on fire. It’s also an excellent time to examine precisely what makes a car American.

I want to do this because there are a lot of Americans out there who will only buy an American car, just like there are a lot of Japanese who will only buy a Japanese car, and a lot of Germans who will only buy a German car, and a lot of South Africans who will only buy cars with bulletproof windows. But in today’s globalized world, what exactly defines a car’s country of origin?

Some would say where the car is manufactured – and that’s reasonable. After all, if a car is built in America, and sold in America by an American car dealership to someone in America, this is a pretty damn American vehicle, correct? You can only get more American if you were to get on a plane and ask personal questions to the stranger sitting next to you, even though they’re obviously trying to read the newspaper.

But wait! There are millions of cars that fit this definition that aren’t made by “American” automakers! The Volkswagen Passat, for example, is built somewhere in the marry-your-cousin hills of East Tennessee by an American factory worker, then shipped to an American dealer by an American truck driver where it’s prepped by an American employee and sold to an American rental car company for use in the commission of an American felony, likely with an American gun.

So is the Passat an American car?

Most people would say no, the Passat is a German car, in the sense that the brand that sells it, Volkswagen, hails from one of those European countries where they smoke cigarettes in corporate offices. Instead, some might say, to be truly American, a car must come from an American brand that has headquarters in America, where they hire many recent Wayne State University graduates to try and figure out whether the Buick Regal should cost $28,936 or $28,934.

The problem with this definition is that many American car companies build their cars in foreign countries. For example: the highly American Chrysler PT Cruiser, which is one of the most American cars of all time based on the total number of elderly owners who enjoy sitting in plastic lawnchairs on their porch, was actually manufactured in Mexico.

This creates a problem when we’re referring to American cars, because – this is an important news bulletin, so pay attention – Mexico isn’t America. Mexico is Mexico. [I thought Texas was Mexico? –MS] It’s an entirely different country, with an entirely different language, and culture, and citizenry, and flavor of Coca-Cola. It is, in fact, a completely different place from the US of A.

So this brings us to another question, which is: Can an American car not be an American car unless it’s made by an American brand and manufactured in America?

If the answer to this is yes, it removes dozens of American cars from our “American car” list. It also removes dozens of foreign cars, even though they often show up near the top of the cars.com “American made” index, which examines just how much of each car actually comes from the United States. Do these cars really deserve to be removed from a listing of American models?

The thing is, it’s just gotten too hard to know for sure. Is a Japanese car really American if the majority of its parts are American and it’s built here? Is an American car not American anymore if it’s built in a foreign country? And most importantly, does anyone really care?

The answer, actually, is a lot of people really care. Many Americans want to buy American, just like many British want to buy British, and many Spanish want to buy Spanish, and blah blah blah. This is why people in Italy buy the Fiat Freemont, thinking it’s an Italian car, even though it’s just a leftover Dodge Journey with a different grille.

And so I ask you, the readers: what exactly makes a car American? What does a car require in order to fit this definition? And in today’s increasingly globalized world, is there even such a thing as a truly “American” car anymore?

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121 Comments on “QOTD: What Really Makes a Car American?...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Personally I feel better buying a car assembled in a factory in the USA than one assembled in a foreign country, no matter who the manufacturer is.

    Yes we can argue about where the profits go but I feel good about the guy on the assembly line earning a paycheck whom I know is a fellow countryman.

    (FWIW – 2010 Highlander, assem-Princeton Indiana – 2005 Pontiac Vibe, assem-NUMMI plant, California – 2004 F150 Heritage-assem-Canada, 1967 Mustang Convertible – assem-haven’t decoded the tag yet but somewhere in the USA.)

    • 0 avatar

      >>>Yes we can argue about where the profits go but I feel good about the guy on the assembly line earning a paycheck whom I know is a fellow countryman.

      My sentiments exactly. My Honda was made in Ohio.

      When he was running for pres in ’08, Dennis Kucinich was buying his second Ford Focus from the dealership where his brother worked. The paperwork was just about finished when a doubt came into Kucinich’s mind. And in fact, the car his brother Gary was selling him was hecho in Mexico. Gary had to go find an American made Focus and redo the paperwork.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        A coworker of my Father’s purchased an Accord and immediately started to get teased about buying a foreign car. He always delighted in showing them the made in the USA/made in Ohio stickers.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Yes we can argue about where the profits go but I feel good about the guy on the assembly line earning a paycheck whom I know is a fellow countryman.”

      Where the profits go is largely irrelevant. Where the _costs_ go is what matters as far as a vehicle being local is concerned.

      Unless you’re an investor and you’re expecting dividends, you’re exactly right about costs (like the assembler’s paycheque, or the suppliers of materials, parts & logistics, etc) instead of profits. The “profits go to Japan” is a great line that organized labour completely misinterpreted the point of.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Where the _costs_ go is what matters as far as a vehicle being local is concerned.”

        What he said.

        In any case, the profits go into plant expansion. For example, if GM is building factories in China, where do you think that it got the money to pay for it?

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “In any case, the profits go into plant expansion. For example, if GM is building factories in China, where do you think that it got the money to pay for it?”

          From other people. At very low interest, I might add.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “From other people. At very low interest, I might add.”

            And that’s the name of the game – making a profit with other people’s money.

    • 0 avatar
      alexndr333

      Where the profits go matters to me. Doug’s question is interesting because we are nationalists when it comes to politics and internationalists when we spend our money. So, we demand that our government assure worker safety; environmental responsibility; and equal treatment of men, women, races, sexual orientation – and we expect our businesses to do so, as well. Yet, we’ll ignore politics when we buy, taking anything and everything from China, Japan, Korea, Germany, France (you’d be surprised how much frozen food comes from the Hexagon), Thailand, Chile, Sri Lanka and on and on.

      With the car being the biggest single purchase in my household, I want the corporate parents of the car I buy to be here in the USA where the political values I hold – equal treatment under law, due process – are not some exception, but the rule. I’m glad that on the 14th floor there are ADA-accessible bathrooms to remind even the corporate swells that we make accommodations for all here.

      Meanwhile, in Japan for example, there are no legal protections against racial or cultural discrimination. A japanese business can legally exclude anyone not seen as ‘Japanese enough’ or with a skin color the business doesn’t care to allow in. It’s no wonder Toyota works so hard to appear to us as an American company. Their home values would appall us.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        You’re not really getting it. But it would appear that you have a thing against the Japanese, so you probably don’t want to get it.

        • 0 avatar
          alexndr333

          Nothing against the Japanese – it was just an example of how other nations have different values from the USA. We often ignore those differences when we buy, but would likely object to them when we vote.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You’re really not getting it. They are multinational companies.

            There really isn’t a national difference between a Japanese automaker that does business throughout the planet and an American automaker that does business throughout the planet. They’re just companies.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Pch101,
            I totally support your argument regarding globalisation an multi nationals.

            The distinction between mutlti national companies varies little. Even the so called money people consider leaving a country to another is not as large as many think.

            Regardless of where they operate they must operate using the same guidelines.

          • 0 avatar
            VoGo

            Alexndr333,
            Consider this: I am an American, having been born in the US, to parents who themselves were US citizens. My wife is American; all my ancestors have been American for more than a century.

            And yet, I own stock in a company with the symbol: HMC. Yes, Honda. Which means that when someone anywhere on earth purchases a Honda, some of the profits go to….me. An American.

            The profits go to lots of people in many many countries, because we they own shares in Honda. Whether or not their bathrooms are ADA compliant, despite the fact that many don’t eat hot dogs on July 4.

            Capital crosses national boundaries.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        “Where the profits go matters to me”

        Where the costs go should matter to you. The profits could go anywhere

        “With the car being the biggest single purchase in my household, I want the corporate parents of the car I buy to be here in the USA where the political values I hold – equal treatment under law, due process – are not some exception, but the rule.”

        Well, that’s tricky. How do you know that the directors, executive and shareholders–not to mention the corporation as a whole–share your ethos? Most corporations are sociopathic in nature, moreso in the US than elsewhere, in fact.

        “Meanwhile, in Japan for example, there are no legal protections against racial or cultural discrimination”

        If you have worked in any major corporation, you’d note that discrimination can happen anywhere at anytime to anyone. All it needs is for the leadership to look the other way or frankly, to enable it. ADA, OSHA and such are nice window-dressing, but they don’t mean a damn when it comes to ethical employment; if it did, Costco (who is very ethical) and Walmart (who is not) wouldn’t be so diametrically opposed.

        • 0 avatar
          alexndr333

          “How do you know that the directors, executive and shareholders–not to mention the corporation as a whole–share your ethos?” I don’t know what their ethos might be, but I know my country’s values are ever-present before them when their corporate offices are here in the USA. The handicap-accessible example is a reminder – subtle, perhaps – that we work hard to give everyone a try. Do GM or Ford’s executives personally believe that? Who knows? But, I know they are surrounded by values of equal treatment (non-discrimination, non-harassment, etc.) continually. I value that.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      I am 100% the opposite. I’d much rather have a car manufactured in Europe or Japan than one made in America. The American auto manufacturing industry is notoriously bad. Between cost cutting, legacy practices, refusal to implement best practices, (and in some cases such as GM actually going backwards for cost reasons), union and corporate management getting in the way of modernization, as well as the mindset of fix it down the line, American manufactured cars continue to lag behind their counterparts in assembly quality, especially from Japan.

      • 0 avatar

        I think a lot of this is the market the car is sold into. A top line car of any make has to be a certain quality. An S class or a 7 or a Bentley. The folks who buy these cars, no matter where, are all buying “the best”, not “the best I can afford”.

        Beyond that in the vast middle of the market, makers build to that market. I recall a test showing that latin american versions of worldwide cars didn’t crash as well as euro or north american versions, as they didn’t have the same tests or need to have airbags, etc. I saw some Chinese cars on vacation on an island near South America, and they looked like poor copies of 80’s Toyotas….you could not sell them in the US or Europe, but for the money in THOSE markets, they are competitive.

        Likewise, my German build TDi vs. the Mexican build cars shows one is made in a high expense area, to be sold against a variety of equally well built cars. The other is stripped for production costs to be sold against cars also sold on price. It isn’t where it is built, it is the market to which it is sold. The coca cola thing is accurate here too. Muricans are stupid and most will still buy corn syrup soda, cheaper to make, but outside, real sugar only please.

        Also consider how the markets buy cars. Euros tend to buy the car for cash or close to it, so it is a different thought process between Hmmm 50k Euro in one shot, and you run it forever with perfect maintenance , or a low low payment of $239 per month for 36 months and you give it back with only the free oil change that it would not have seen otherwise.

        My two Germans were built in Germany, so that money went to Europe. The Acura had the engine and trans from Japan, but the rest of the truck is all Made in USA or Canada parts.

        My Acura was built in Ontario. I suppose my truck is Canadian, eh ? The MDX isn’t built like a 90’s Accord, it is built like anything GM made in the last 20 years…I’m sure the same suppliers, and bean counters are involved. (or, why I’ll never buy Acura again even though the X is a nice drive.)

        Sadly, the only US made cars I’d consider are Caddy or the Corvette. Oh, wait, does the X5 count as American ?? This IS complicated…

        • 0 avatar
          limabravo

          In my opinion, the Latin ncap tests just add to what we know about vehicle manufacturers as a whole.

          Honda, Toyota, and Ford tend to value human life and make safe vehicles.

          Chevy makes some crappy older vehicles but if you buy a car that has good crash test results they will at least sell you an honest vehicle.

          Nissan sells some absolute crap, and sister company Renault was the only company caught substituting low grade steel into the safety cages for the Latin market (Sandoval vs dacia).

          Other than Renault, all other manufacturers had almost identical crash results plus or minus airbag usage.

    • 0 avatar
      nickoo

      For a car to be considered American, it should be based on the corporate headquarters current and founding location, both should be American. That leaves GM, Ford, and Tesla as the 3 American car corporations.

      Cars can be assembled in American with American parts, but those cars shouldn’t be considered American, likewise, cars can be assembled in korea or mexico with non-american parts and be considered American.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        I try to look at three things: parts content, location of assembly and where the front offices are located. I know that whittles cars down fairly quickly and makes buying an “American” car pretty difficult (at least one I’d prefer to drive). A friend of mine was flabbergasted that her Buick Regal was really an Opel made in Ruesselsheim! I think the majority of Americans don’t care, which is somewhat sad. Conversely, many who steadfastly believe in buying American only (and I admit to being more pro-American than just about anybody when it comes to consumer purchases, much to my wife’s dismay) are driving vehicles that are something less than purely American. My neighbor’s Camry or Accord is likely to be far more American than the guy down the street’s Fusion. I do, however steer about as far clear of Chinese-made goods (I cringe at the new Trax and Encore with are something like 70% Korean and 20% Chinese…to each his own, I suppose) in general as I can. While this is very hard to do for things like electronics, I have found that with some searching home items and clothing are able to be found by American companies actually producing…in America!
        We all have our reasons for what we purchase (or don’t). Defining an American car these days is tough. Finding a car that is American that fills my needs is even tougher (I really wanted GM to bring the Cruze wagon to market and build it here, but that didn’t happen). It ain’t easy being a patriot…lol

  • avatar
    OneAlpha

    One could say that certain TYPES of vehicles are American – full-size pickups, for example. They’re big, they’re tough, they’re confident and capable – just like America itself.

    As far as manufacturers go, you probably can’t really say that any of them are truly American anymore, because in order for that to happen, they’d have to be completely in-country affairs, from initial design to manufacturing.

    • 0 avatar

      We could also say that non-working pickups are blustery, stupid, and wasteful, and suggest that this is just like America itself (and indeed, blustery, stupid and wasteful policies have dominated since the millennium).

      But the US is a much more complex, diverse, and interesting country than that.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        People buy what they buy because they can. Because … America!

        Like putting a hot dogs and potato chips on a cheese burger. Because …. America!

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          highdesertcat,
          Your description of America sounds pretty much like most nations.

          America has little to do with it, it is more to do with just being human………..not American.

          Hmmmmmmmmmm

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Well, I just spent a lot of time in Old Mexico and Brazil, and I can tell you from first-hand knowledge, neither is like “most nations”.

            America is what America is, with all its quirkiness, oddities, and recalcitrance of the American buying public.

            Lots of non-working pickups abound in America, but Americans do it, because they can.

            We’ll be going to Europe soon for an extended stay, and I’m sure that the populace there will be more prim and proper as well.

            I was astounded at how much the American culture and way of life has influenced both Old Mexico and Brazil. I have no doubt it will be even more evident in Europe.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            highdesertcat,
            I do not disagree with the influence the US had.

            The US has always adopted other ideas and reformed them for its acceptance.

            Even food.

            Affluence and not the American people allowed for the lifestyle and culture, again like many nations.

            Affluence allows for the development of freedom irrespective of country.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            I wonder if I can get Domino’s Pizza or Pizza Hut, even Papa Johns, when we go to Italy this summer?

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            highdesertcat,
            Well, do not bring up pizza.

            I do know Dominos US is US.

            The rest of Dominos globally is Australian owned, even in the EU.

            Pizza is everywhere globally. I might add it varies in quality. The US has some good pizza, but so does every other country I have been to.

            Why would you buy from a chain outlet? They produce the worst pizzas. That is global.

            Chain operations tend to produce poorer quality product. Most every item is overly processed.

            Junk and trash.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I should of stated most of the rest of Dominoes globally is Aussie operated.

            It does trade using the Dominoes name.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Americans are not like other people. http://serendipity.ruwenzori.net/index.php/2008/09/21/american-troops-in-afghanistan-through-the-eyes-of-a-french-omlt-infantryman

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            CJinSD,
            I really do not know what you have experienced in your life, but you are incorrect.

            Most any person can be transplanted from on OECD economy to another and survive pretty much as they do right now.

            People like you who amplify trivial difference are an issue with the world and even within your own country.

            The difference between someone living in any large US city slogging it out everyday to survive or a person in France is marginal.

            You go to the supermarket, get the kids to school, have a beer after work, scrape money together for car repairs, electricty and on and on.

            We even dress the same and have more or less exact values.

            Yup, it is people such as yourself who have a degenerative effect on society as a whole with your elitist viezs or American Exceptionalist views.

            No an American, Australian or even a Swedish janitor pretty much have a similar life and culture.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Did you read the article? You’re only fooling yourself little al.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            CJinSD,
            I have not read the article and I will not. The reason is I have more than likely had greater exposure to different militaries than the author who wrote the article.

            Using a military to justify an argument is the worst possible use of data to make your stand.

            I do know that even within the US military there is a difference between the USMC and AF. Even the guys doing the same jobs.

            In Australia the differences between our services is easily visible.

            I will still stand my ground concerning my views. Again, someone living in the bayous around the Gulf will have a substantially larger cultural difference than someone living in a NYC suburb to a London, Sydney, etc suburb.

            You also again are attempting to magnify miniscule differences as larger differences.

            I again will state it is people like you who need a little re-education as you tend to introduce these anti progressive inputs.

            America is a great nation, but as I have pointed out the US is really not much different than most any modern, wealthy economy. To consider otherwise displays a very provencial attitude.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            I don’t have to hide from reality. You do, because reading the experience of a French soldier is a threat to the falsehood you want to believe. That should tell you something about the validity of your opinion.

        • 0 avatar
          05lgt

          Funny, I hear hot dogs on a hamburger and all I hear is Torta from a local Taco truck… in other words: Amurexico!

  • avatar
    stroker49

    An American car is made in Lansing, MI!

  • avatar
    Clueless Economist

    “Marry your cousin hills of Tennessee”? I stopped reading after that. It told me nothing of value was going to follow.

  • avatar

    I won’t really answer the question but I want to say I enjoyed reading it. Nobody writes humour like Americans.

    An American car? Are we talking about the platonic ideal or factual one? Platonically, it’s a comfortably large car with decent power and a good ride. Visually it’s confident. Buick used to do this very well which is why Europeans like them. There seem not to be many cars left in this mould. That’s sad. The Volvo S80 is almost up to the job.

    • 0 avatar

      In the ’50s and ’60s American cars were high commercial art that symbolized our country riding into the jet age, and then into the space age.

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        On the backs of German rocket scientists and engineers because we won the war.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Amen to that. My father-in-law is the son of one of those German rocket scientists.

        • 0 avatar
          MrGreenMan

          To be fair, we were just trying to offer those fine gentleman an opportunity to continue their research and not wind up working for Stalin

          • 0 avatar

            Peenemünde

            If you ever get to Germany, go there. It is the real origin of human rocketry. The exhibits about how they blew up hundreds of rockets, at great cost and expense, and learned, are amazing. You see the progression of design in engine shapes, pumps, and piping. It is a fascinating thing, to see how the first real rockets were designed, and by the same folks who got us to the moon.
            Short Answer…they blew a lot of stuff up but kept going.

            Oh, and it was also a slave labor camp. No one can claim “they didn’t know”….

            I hate that mankind’s first step to the stars was done on the backs of our fellow man.

            The Baltic is very pretty. I recommend the Hotel Oasis for an authentic 30’s hotel experience.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …On the backs of German rocket scientists and engineers because we won the war…

          We got the good scientists, that’s for sure. Growing up a little kid during the Apollo Era, I never knew just how much we owed our space “supremacy” to those German scientists…

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    Something else to consider: Is an American-branded vehicle made in Canada really American? This is a more-nuanced question than if the car or truck was made in Europe or perhaps even Mexico. After the U.S.-Canadian auto trade deal of 1965, I always considered the U.S. and Canadian manufacture of vehicles the same domestic industry – with unionized workers north of the border just as they are in the U.S. (at least for the Big Three automakers).

    Does NAFTA create the same situation for Mexico? I’m not sure. Are Mexican autoworkers unionized? Does it matter? Am I biased because Canadian society, culture and history, on the face of it, seem closer to that of the U.S. than Mexican society, culture and history? Again, if I’m being honest with myself, I’m not sure.

    Anyway, for me, the answer is “yes,” Canadian-assembled cars and trucks from American brands are American. But feel free to add your thoughts. I certainly don’t have all the answers. Does that mean I’m not TTAC material? :)

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Ironically some of the most “AMERICAN” (in style and swagger) vehicles on the road today are made in Canada – Chrysler 300, Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger.

      • 0 avatar
        Sketch

        Even more ironically, those are all updated versions of cars that were based on old Mercedes designs during the Pentastar days.

        • 0 avatar
          Maymar

          Eh, the LX’s definitely have a bunch of German components in there, but the chassis is Chrysler’s. Even then, I feel like I’ve heard LX owes quite a bit to LH, which was roughly an updated Eagle (by way of Renault) Premier. That said, I can’t remember if I saw that anywhere deserving of a citation.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      ” Is an American-branded vehicle made in Canada really American? ”

      Do you mean culturally or economically?

      If we’re talking the latter, if the parts are designed, supplied and shipped by Americans, then probably yes. Think about the car as a dollar; how many pennies of that dollar pay the guys on the line? The electrical bills? The tax bills to the city and state? The finished parts and their suppliers’ people? The shippers, receivers, dealers, loan guarantors, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      TDIGuy

      Just to complicate things, some manufacturers are building the same model of car/truck in both Canada and the US. I can’t think of any current examples built both in NA and elsewhere.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        The number of choices we buyers have is getting smaller by the day.

        While buying a car made by non-UAW autoworkers in the US is a good thing, all the transplants in America have sunk to the same level as the D3 pre-2008 offering us a choice between bad, worse and worst. No wonder, they all use the same American suppliers.

        Only Hyundai/Kia seems to have bucked the downward trend the other cars made in America are on. Maybe they just paid JDP the most money to rate them good.

        It can be argued that cars today are better that ever before. That is true because when you’re at the bottom there is no place to go but up. And 2008 was the bottom for American cars from GM, Ford and Chrysler.

        But among “equals” today some manufacturers are more equal that others when it comes to quality.

        The 4-cyl Camry and 4-cyl Accord are dogs by any other name while the V6 versions of the same are truly outstanding. OTOH, the 4-cyl Hyundai/Kia midsizers almost feel like entry-level luxos.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        “I can’t think of any current examples built both in NA and elsewhere.”

        Being built elsewhere? That’s pretty common: lots of cars are made in several plants across the world. Often the cheaper and more widely-available, the vehicle, the more likely it is to be made on more than a few continents.

        Now, built in multiple places and sold in North America: that’s pretty uncommon. VW certainly did (the Golf and Jetta were made in both Puebla and Wolfsburg, both for North American consumption) as did Toyota (the Corolla; NUMMI, Cambridge and somewhere in Japan). I don’t know if GM concurrently built the current Regal in Rüsselsheim and Oshawa.

        If they still do it, they don’t do it for very long: only to smooth out production.

  • avatar
    OliverTwist

    “…Volkswagen, hails from one of those European countries where they smoke cigarettes in corporate offices.”

    Um, I think that’s very much archaic stereotype about Germans today. Smoking in the corporate offices and public buildings has been outlawed for a long time.

  • avatar
    markf

    “what really makes a car American?”

    That’s easy, terrible build quality

    • 0 avatar
      golden2husky

      Dude, get out more often. It’s no longer 1985. Really. Go to a car show and objectively look at fit and finish. Compare. You would be quite surprised to see that overall, especially with exterior panels, that once true stereotype is dead.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        That once true stereotype also does not really take into consideration how cheap American cars are(or used to be) compared to most other countries cars, when comparing the size, power and amount of gadgets pr. dollar. Americans and Europeans especially have completely different ways of measuring the value of a car, even today.

      • 0 avatar
        markf

        Fixing lousy fitting exterior panels doesn’t mean the rest of the car was built correctly. MY perception is that US Cars will always be substandard, part of it is 5K or so that is tacked on for (mostly past) union costs. They gotta save money somewhere….

        Evey time I rent a car it is some bland, terrible American sedan (usually a GM product) and the first thought in my mind is “Who would go to a dealership, test drive this then decide to actually pay money for this POS”

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          “MY perception is that US Cars will always be substandard, part of it is 5K or so that is tacked on for (mostly past) union costs. They gotta save money somewhere”

          Per-vehicle costs are actually pretty much the same for all OEMs. Costs incurred by collective bargaining are not $5K/unit. They aren’t even close; labour is 2-5%.

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            At an educational seminar (2008) an economist priced out the ‘extra’ cost of UAW/CAW labour for a D3 produced car in North America (The USA and Canada). The additional cost per vehicle worked out to about $300.

            And Oshawa as one example had extremely high marks for build quality.

            So stop denigrating D3 vehicle built in North America.

            A Buick sedan with the 3800 engine built in Oshawa will outlast and outrun just about any other passenger car manufactured.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            “A Buick sedan with the 3800 engine built in Oshawa will outlast and outrun just about any other passenger car manufactured.”

            The Church of 3800 approves of this message.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            I can’t cite a source simply because I can’t remember what she told me it was, but my ex for grad school wrote a paper on union impact in auto mfg. She told me at the time (2011ish) she found sources which claimed it was $2K/unit, not 5.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “A Buick sedan with the 3800 engine built in Oshawa will outlast and outrun just about any other passenger car manufactured.”

            Except for a Buick sedan with the 3800 engine built in Flint or Hamtramck.
            ______
            My 2014MY Dodge has woeful fit and finish but I’ve owned some GM stuff that deserves some positive recognition. (Of course I’ve owned some terrible GM stuff as well.)

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            Arthur Daily no it won’t. My family has owned at least 12 3800 4 speed vehicles from every generation and every configuration since the early 90s and I have personally owned 2 of them. They are only looked upon favorably *when compared to the rest of the garbage that GM puts out*

            A CR-V, Accord or Civic, from any generation, on mean average, will easily double the life of a GM 3800 vehicle.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            “A CR-V, Accord or Civic, from any generation, on mean average, will easily double the life of a GM 3800 vehicle.”

            You have any numbers to back that claim up? Or are you just pulling anecdata out of your butt? I have owned 11 Buick V6 cars and have an ’89 Electra right now. Does my positive experience offset yours?

            Go look at published reliability sources from ’88-’95, the 3800 vehicles were about the only things that could hang with Japan. I have the 1989 CR Auto issue were the H-body was the ONLY American car to score above average in reliability. There is an entire page devoted to it. I can throw up some scans this weekend.

            Around 2000, they kind of fell off, but I’m pretty sure the reliabilty on the 3800 Lucerne is statistically well-regarded as well.

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            ajla, yes my father owned an electra from that era, I believe his was an ’88. I owned a similar car, the 90 lesabre. They both had serious issues that caused us to get rid of them. Unlike him, I swore I’d never buy another GM vehicle again after that one.

            In his case, electrical gremlins that could never be diagnosed made the car randomly shut off while driving, at any speed (he dumped it after spending well over what he should have trying to get it diagnosed, unsuccessfully), in my case, the car simply started falling apart and was pretty much worn out by 120 thousand miles, seat was wore out, headliner fell off, door handle broke, wheel bearings wore out, water pump, alternator, starter wore out, every time I had to hard stop the rotors warped (thanks to criminally undersized brakes on a full sized vehicle), this was a car that was garaged most of its life.

            GM cars are cheap pieces of junk that simply do not hold up and if you know what to look for, the blatant poor manufacturing and cost cutting is immediately visually evident. I currently own a GM vehicle right now that is undergoing the same “fall apart” trend as all the other GM vehicles that I have owned. It ALWAYS starts at around 100-110 miles, on every GM I have ever owned, even if the powertrain is slightly better. Currently, it’s the transmission and the interior on my Tahoe that is simply falling apart.

            If you own a GM and sell it before 100,000 you won’t notice the differences, but if you keep your cars for high miles, the difference between GM and other manufacturers is stark.

            The 3800 motor was one of GM’s best at the time if you drained the DEX-COOL and put regular ethylene glycol in it, which isn’t saying much good about the 3800 when compared to the 60 degree v6s, the northstar, the 4.3, the iron dukes, etc. even the supercharged 3800s were problematic. They were nothing special compared to the competition from Japan. Sticking an average motor (the 3800) into a car that is going to fall apart is not a good way to build cars. When it comes to Japanese vehicles (and even Fords) in comparison to GM, the whole car is better built to last. With your Electra, you had better make sure you keep an eye on the timing chain, because if that snaps, you will be scrapping that car, not to mention the cheapo mechanical accessories such as tensioner pulley, water pump, starter, alternator, coil packs, POWER WINDOW REGULATORs (good luck with a plastic belt driven power window regulator repair), headliner, worn seats, etc, are all going to fail at about the same time, at about 100-110 thousand miles.

            I wish I had a study showing “average miles driven per vehicle before end of life” but I can’t find one off hand. However, it is no coincidence that on the “cars” list Honda Accord is number 1 on the following list and GM, 3800 or not, has ZERO vehicles on it:

            http://blog.iseecars.com/2014/02/24/top-10-longest-lasting-vehicles-in-iseecars-com-study-are-all-trucks-and-suvs/

            Methodology: iSeeCars.com analyzed 30 million used cars listed on iSeeCars.com over the last year and studied the vehicles with models years between 1981 to 2010 and those with over 200K miles on the odometer. For each vehicle model, the number of 200K mile cars as a percentage of the total number of vehicles listed for the model was calculated; the number was then used to rank each model.

            The Lucerne is a terrible car. It literally had the worst stopping power of any vehicle manufactured during it’s lifetime, GM should be sued for putting criminally inadequate brakes on that car. Its cost cutting was evident throughout, and there is a reason the sales from the Park Avenue/LeSabre fell off a cliff when GM went to the Lucerne. You can read the TTAC reviews on it if you think differently.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I don’t know what to tell you man. I’ve had a generally great experience with all my H-bodies and Buick V6s. I do not seem to be unique in that positive experience. I’m going to keep buying them and keep recommending them to people I know until I start suffering for it. I like my Electra a lot. It is still solid at 185k. I had a Lucerne. I did not like it much, but it didn’t break down either (although I owned it less than a year).

            If people personally had bad luck with H-bodies or 3800s, I won’t disparage them for avoiding those cars or speaking ill of them. I just think if you are going to throw out “on average a Honda lasts twice as long” stuff in your comments you should have some data to back it up.

            My timing chain is fine, thanks for your concern. And you definitely should not buy anything made by ChryslerCo because those make GM vehicles look like a Toyota-built W123.

          • 0 avatar
            nickoo

            ajla, it’s all good man, I wish you best of luck with your car. My family has just maybe been unlucky with their 3800 vehicle purchases? Who knows. I strongly agree with you on the Mopar warning. I love the vehicles Chrysler puts out, the LX cars, the Durango, Ram EcoDiesel, Jeep Grand Cherokee, but I definitely wouldn’t own one past the 100,000 mile mark.

            When I buy my next vehicle, if I go for a sporty car, I’ll probably get a late model mustang, but I’m under no illusions it will be bullet proof. If I go utility, I’ll probably be buying a Toyota Sequoia or Tundra.

        • 0 avatar

          What’s your daily driver?

          • 0 avatar
            Arthur Dailey

            We have had 10 Hondas/Accuras the immediate family. Running the gambit from lowly Civic hatches, to a Wagovan, Accords and the vaunted Integra. No issues, mechanically as long as you replaced the timing belt, had a stick and didn’t care about the heat shield bolts rusting and falling off.

            The GM 3800 engine/tranny combination is as good as it gets. Notice that the complaints above about GM’s are not related to the drivetrain.

            As per fit and finish, Oshawa built Buicks generally came in on top of a large number of JD Power surveys.

            The figures for union manufacturing costs that we examined were for the manufacturer only (not suppliers). So it was the labour cost for the assembly plants. Remember that in Canada, since we have universal healthcare there was no company cost associated with healthcare, which is a very large cost in the USA for both employees and at that time retirees.

            Unfortunately after 4 Caravans, I have reservations regarding Chrysler.

            And although a Ford/Lincoln family throughout the 70’s, ever since my bought new and babied T-Bird tried multiple times to kill me, I no longer feel secure in a Ford.

            My prejudice is not just directed towards domestics. Throughout the 60’s and until the early 80’s we nearly always had at least one VW in the drive. However, based on my experience with them, unless it is an ‘authentic’ rear engined, air cooled Beetle, my experiences were decidedly unfavourable. Although I am considering a lease on a new Passat?

        • 0 avatar
          derekson

          ” Evey time I rent a car it is some bland, terrible American sedan (usually a GM product) and the first thought in my mind is “Who would go to a dealership, test drive this then decide to actually pay money for this POS” ”

          Considering that half of US car buyers don’t even properly test drive the car that they buy, never mind test driving multiple cars thoroughly, they’re mainly buying on price/financing availability or just buying the first car they look at and get a “deal” on.

          Seriously, I recently read that 1/6 of buyers don’t even do a test drive, and another 1/3 only do a cursory “around the block” drive in the car they end up buying. That leaves half of buyers actually test driving before they buy. And the 1/3 that do a cursory drive are probably comparing a new car to their 10+ year old heap, so even a mediocre new car will seem great in comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      OneAlpha

      You do realize it’s not 1978 anymore, right?

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      ““what really makes a car American?””

      I say its the obvious cost cutting.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    This is a question that has no simple answer, and I guess there are a lot of subjective opinions about it too. As for the US Passat, it’s pretty much an American car made by a german brand, unlike the Focus and Fiesta, and most Buicks, which are European cars made by an American brand.
    US Accords, Civic, and their competitors are also American cars, and just wouldn’t work anywhere else, because of the combination of low manufacturing cost and size/horsepower.
    And since most of the Japanese luxury/premium cars have most of their market in the US, I think it’s fair to say Acura, Infiniti and Lexus are American cars, and even brands too.
    It may be a bit of a stretch saying most luxury SUVs are American cars, but many(most?) were originally developed in the US for the American market specifically.
    Australian muscle cars are not American cars though ;)

  • avatar
    Fred

    Open the hood on any car and you see a world of components, so it’s really a free for all how you define American made. Heck even the manufacturer’s can’t decide amongst them selves.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Automobile_Manufacturers_Association

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The correct answer is, if the car, regardless of it’s origin, has a legal license plate, is properly registered and such, it is then an American car.
    Just like it’s diverse people,
    I don’t think globalization has lead to cars loosing their regional characteristics, I think it’s mostly to do with vastly improved safety, engineering, performance and internal space requirements that make all cars seem like globalized heaps of excellence.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    An American car is a car made in North America, that must either

    A: be a large sedan, SUV, or truck, or van with the badge of a foreign automaker (Accord, Passat, Tundra, Mercedes M class, Nissan NV)

    B: be any vehicle with the badge of a domestic automaker

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Defining American by place of manufacture, ownership, etc. is nearly impossible. All cars are assembled by globally sourced components and the “foreign” ones often are loaded with domestic parts and assembly. So, most go by brand. That VW is German, even with Tennessee roots. Other factors are based in design and style. My Vette is American, and would be American even it it was assembled in Japan. My Altima is Japanese, well, maybe, well, who knows. Its a good car but lineage for it is irrelevant.

    Does this matter anymore? Well, yes, it does but you don’t have a choice anymore. I would be happier knowing that the domestics were all assembled here in the US, and to see Detroit (the city) have an influx of people, new plants and a resurgence in economic output. But that just is not going to happen. You can’t compete in mass market products that way anymore. One can only wonder what that city would look like today had the Citation been as well built and reliable as an Accord….if one could go back in time with a laptop loaded with history (their future) and sit with the execs of the day…well, I guess that would be like what happened in the book “The Reckoning”…they would still have done nothing different…the power of arrogance…

  • avatar
    Pch101

    During an era of multinational corporations, this has largely become a meaningless question. Western companies don’t belong to just one country.

  • avatar
    carguy

    “marry-your-cousin hills of East Tennessee”

    Really DeMuro?

  • avatar
    7402

    My thinking is that there are three main components in making a car: the engine, the transmission, and the assembly. If two of those three are USA then I’m happy.

    Still, it really doesn’t influence my buying. We have a German car, an English car, and a Japanese car, all of which were made in their respective countries and shipped to the USA.

    And even the gun, likely a Glock given the suggested demographic, is only assembled in the USA (Georgia) of components made in Austria.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Our Rav4 has a West Virginia transmission, Alabama or Kentucky engine, and stamped/welded/painted/assembled in Canada. My wife’s MINI has a Brazilian engine (I think), German transmission (again, I think), English stamping/welding/painting/assembly, and a German VIN(!). My FR-S is Japan, Japan, Japan. The Rav is easily the best built of the 3. No squeaks, rattles, weirdness. The MINI and FR-S aren’t bad, but they do have some rattles here and there. I think the Subaru DNA is the source of the rattle in the FR-S. Reminds me of my old 2001 Impreza 2.5RS and my brother’s 2005 Outback XT in that way.

  • avatar
    Perc

    If you ask the average European, “american car” means that it’s big and has lots of cylinders. GM and Ford really did a good job convincing buyers that everything in the US of A is big and thirsty. They have no idea what a Ford Pinto is and if you told someone that there’s a Cadillac version of the Opel Ascona, they’ll laugh in your face.

    American cars has also always attracted a special kind of buyer, the “american car fan”. 1980’s Mopar is a bit of an exception from this rule since cars like the Neon, the minivans and the various cab-forwards managed to sneak themselves into the European market… mostly in stick-shift 4-cylinder form, I’d imagine. And by the way, most Mopar stuff has Chrysler badges here. Chrysler Neon, Chrysler Voyager etc.

    The same is true for European car makers in the US, I guess. The A3 and A4 was available with a poverty spec 8-valve 1.6 when they first came out, and the A3 has a 1.2 liter turbo these days. Not to mention the double-digit hp diesels. And the fact that the C and E class both had naturally aspirated diesels available until around the turn of the century.

    And because Detroit did their marketing right (or did they?), GM had one hell of a time convincing buyers that their new lineup of korea-sourced Chevrolets were proper Chevrolets. I happen to think they are, because Chevrolet has always been a reasonably priced car for normal people. But to most Europeans, Chevrolet usually means a frame with a V8 bolted to it. Not a 1.4 liter Cruze.

  • avatar
    STRATOS

    Cars are no longer national symbols,just like a capitalist swears allegiance to no country.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      True, but how and where we each decide to spend our money is what matters. Any Toyota product, Honda product is far better than like-products made by Ford or GM.

      Maybe that is because of how each manufacturer stands behind their product.

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        Standing behind their product is a part of it, but it largely has to do with how the plants are run more so than the location of the plants. An efficiently designed plant, with proper processes and employee training will be successful whether it is located in Japan or in Mexico, especially with the amount of automation involved in modern automobile manufacturing.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    It’s the badge on the hood. Forget where it’s made, forget who made it. To the average IQ 90 Joe walking by on the street, that is all that matters in terms of country of origin. He doesn’t know what factory the thing rolled out of.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    In my family we have a Calif built Corolla, a Kentucky built Highlander, an Ohio built Accord, another Ky built Camry and a Japan built FR-S Oh and a Mexican built Dodge. (the only “American” car in the bunch)

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    DeMuro – – –

    I can’t believe this one avenue to “What is American?” hasn’t been included here already.

    It’s a matter of percentages in various categories.
    And that has already been defined by the Kogod School of Business:

    http://www.american.edu/kogod/autoindex/2014.cfm

    As others have said, let’s move on. This issue is a bit silly considering the current world we live in.

    ==================

  • avatar
    Onus

    To me an American car is all based on parts content.

    But at the end of the day I don’t care what brand, or who made it. I’m more concerned about its qualities.

    I’m currently in Russia and people here jump to foreign brands of every commodity without comparing domestic or foreign on there merits. Even when the Nissan, cheese, and appliance they bought is actually Russian made.

    I’m just glad we don’t do that in the US. I’ll buy the best, brand, production site, brand nation doesn’t matter.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    To consider a vehicle American if it is not a pickup or a pickup based station wagon is a big call. Even then pickups are becoming a global success. These pickups have become disconnected more and more from US influences.

    It seems from a cultural perspective most cultures capture and transplant aspects of all cultures that add value to their lives.

    Pretty much what can be bought in the US can be bought in any nation globally and vica versa.

    Many forget the US, like Canada; Australia and NZ have very similar cultures.

    A comment above regarding hamburgers highlight this. Having a hamburger for lunch might even be more popular in Oz than the US.

    The US has adopted much or all of its lifestyle, like us and the rest of the world.

    People who percieve the US as special from this perspective are disillusioned.

    At the Paris Airshow this year Hot Dog and Hamburger stands were very common. The only problem was the hot dog was a sav. They also were larger than the standard US dog.

  • avatar
    ajla

    The last American car was the 3.9L Buick Lucerne. Engine from the US, transmission from the US, assembled in the US, and the platform was engineered in the US. Plus, it had no expectation of being sold anywhere but the US and Canada.

    I’m going to nix the DTS for the alpha-numeric name and the international aspirations of the Northstar system. And since the C6 the Corvette has cared way too much about what Europe thinks about it.

  • avatar
    moff90

    People in Italy buy the Fiat Freemont because it is, in typical american fashion, a lot of car for the money. IIRC, it’s one of the cheapest 7-seater available in Europe. Oh, and you can get one with a diesel (in two different power steps) and a six-speed manual.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    Well, the Camry and the Accord really are American cars, in the sense that they’ve long since abandoned the Japanese sensibility of the most space within the tiniest package and they are approaching boulevard cruiser class, especially with a peppy V6. Honda might as well move to California permanently and admit they are a US car company; we’ll adopt them.

  • avatar
    abqhudson

    An American car is one built by American workers who pay American Taxes that support American Schools/Roads/Cities and the Feds.

    Any car built in a foreign country is not an American Car.

    Just ask the residents of Greenville, SC if a BMW built there is an American car. Or the folks in Tennessee who build VWs.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    I would consider my Toyota Avalon an American car. Engine built in West Virginia, assembled and bought here in my home state of Kentucky. Close enough for me.

  • avatar
    koshchei

    The relative “nationality” of a car isn’t that important to me. I *do* go out of my way to buy cars that were assembled in Canada, or where a large percentage of the components are Canadian-made though.

    Why? By supporting Canadian workers, I’m indirectly supporting myself and my lifestyle by ensuring that they can afford the services that I sell, and that the services that I depend on are properly funded with tax dollars. I’m also well aware that Canadian workers are highly skilled and trust the quality of parts that they produce over some lowest-bidder third-world concentration-camp super-factory.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    I’ve never owned an American “brand” car, yet almost half of my cars were built in the United States:
    1980 Scirocco West Germany
    1986 VW GTI USA
    1988 VW GTI 16V USA
    1990 VW Corrado Germany
    1993 VW Fox GL Brazil
    1994 Acura Integra LS Japan
    1997 BMW 318ti Germany
    2001 BMW 325ci Germany
    2004 Honda Element EX USA
    2007 BMW BMW Z4 3.0si coupe USA
    2011 Honda Element EX USA

    And I don’t care…..The quality of the Honda’s and the BMW’s are of the same level as their homeland.

  • avatar
    ex-x-fire

    “What makes a car American?”
    To me this means a mid or full size car that has to have these requirements: push rod 6 with optional push rod 8s (w/ the 8 being made by each respective division), full frame, rear wheel drive, plenty of body styles to chose from, a couple trim levels, & easy to work on. Man, I wish GM would have stuck with this formula.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    I describe my ML320 as an American car. Built by Daimler-Chrysler and sold in Australia. Although I do take offence when somebody describes it as a Chrysler!

    I am of the opinion that is is where it is built makes it so. With global engineering and design studios scattered over the world, it is nonsensical to define what nationality a vehicle is these days. Does a Ford vehicle made in India but partly designed in Australia from an European template make it an IndoEurOz vehicle? Basically it is an India car with a global design brief.

  • avatar
    George B

    To me an American car is both designed for American tastes and assembled in the US or just across the border in Ontario. A Toyota Sienna minivan or Tundra pickup only exists because American consumers demand that type of big vehicle independent of the preferences in Japan. In contrast, American tastes had close to zero influence on Ford Fiesta design and manufacturing decisions despite Ford’s long standing roots in the United States.

  • avatar
    jthorner

    Sorry to confuse you all, but Canada and Mexico are both in America. I’m not sure how the USofA managed to appropriate the name of three continents entirely to itself in some people’s minds, but Canada and Mexico are both in North America. Canadians and Mexicans are Americans (as are Brazilians!).

    Problem solved … the Chevrolet Camaro (Canada), Ford Fusion (Mexico) and Dodge Hemi Engines (Mexico) are American by definition :).

  • avatar
    KrohmDohm

    According to the cars.com index my brand new Camry XSE is the most American car sold today. +75% of the parts were made here and it was assembled in either Kentucky or Indiana. More so than even the great F-150. Does it matter that the company is Japanese? Not to me. I care more about the low to mid-level employees that benefit from my car purchase than I do about the executives or shareholders of said company. Less than 25% of my car was made by someone that doesn’t reside this country. Americans were paid to make the bits, transport the bits, assemble the bits, transport the completed car and were paid to sell me the car. Meaning more of my dollars supported our domestic economy than if I purchased a Ford, GM or Dodge that was hecho in Mexico, the Great White North or China. So does that make my car American? Well at least more so than the following:

    F-150
    Fusion
    Fiesta
    MKZ
    MKT
    MKX
    Edge
    Flex
    Camaro
    Equinox
    Lacrosse


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