What does it mean to be “American?”
I'm not talking about where you or I are born, but rather what we drive. Because forget about the “Like A Rock” or “Made In Detroit” advertising campaigns, when it comes to passenger vehicles, in a new report, the website cars.com says the most American-made car is a Toyota.
Specifically, the Toyota Camry sedan, assembled at plants in Georgetown, Ky., and Lafayette, Ind., ranks at the top of its annual “American Made Index,” released June 28.
The index tracks cars with at least 75 percent U.S.-made parts that are also assembled in the U.S. It counts up how many U.S. assembly plant workers are employed making that car, so a big seller like the Camry, which fills shifts at multiple plants, can tip the scale in its favor simply by volume.
In fact, three of the top seven cars on the index — the Camry, Toyota's Sienna and the Honda Odyssey minivan — are popular vehicles made by Japanese carmakers with plants in the U.S.
Cars.com estimates that the Camry supports 5,900 American U.S. assembly plant workers.
Of course it admits that number is complicated: “Autoworkers typically build multiple vehicles on the same line, and certain management positions would exist whether a plant builds 500 cars or 5,000. Then there are the research and development, supplier, marketing and dealership jobs that a given car supports, which are a lot more numerous than assembly-plant employment but harder to correlate to individual car models. But it goes to show that higher sales mean more production, and more production equals more employees.”
However, the Chevrolet Corvette, with its composites and carbon fiber, still manages to come in as supporting nearly 1,000 U.S. assembly line workers in the index, even though it's a far lower volume than the Camry.
(For what it's worth, last year's top-ranked U.S.-made vehicle, the Ford F-150 pickup truck, no longer ranks in the index because fewer than 75 percent of its parts are made in the U.S. But then cars.com says that fewer than 10 vehicles have at least 75 percent U.S.-made parts, which is why it's Top 10 list has only seven vehicles.)
Auto suppliers have known about the value of close relations with Asian and European automakers — the so-called “New Domestics” — for years and dedicate top sales and engineering gurus specifically to working with companies like Toyota and Honda.
Of course while the Camry may support thousands of U.S. workers, cars.com notes that the profits still go to Japan. The Chevrolet Traverse, which comes in at No. 2 on the index and supports nearly 2,000 U.S. jobs, is part of Detroit-based General Motors Co.
And taken together, General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet, GMC and Buick brands account for four of the top seven U.S.-made cars and jointly employ more than 3,500 people.
The index also does not differentiate between which plants have union member employees — typically the traditional Big Three — and which don't.
But profit and ownership aren't exactly as easy to define as they once were either. Don't forget that Chrysler Group — which brought us the buzzed about Super Bowl ads featuring rapper Eminem for its “Made In Detroit” campaign and resurrected radio commentator Paul Harvey to talk about farmers to boost Ram trucks — is controlled by an Italian firm and officially headquartered in the Netherlands.