Looking for birth certificates

“Domestic content” is a weird term concocted by Washington in the middle 1990s on the assumption that automobile buyers would really like to know if their all-American four-door sedan was in fact born in the U.S.A. The definition is skewed somewhat by the following:

  • Parts of Canadian origin are still considered “domestic”;
  • Labor isn’t counted at all;
  • Final assembly and paint get counted if they’re done in a different plant.

One could argue, as the Japan Auto Manufacturers Association once did, that you need only look at the VIN — cars made in the US start with 1 or 4, in Canada with 2, in Mexico with 3 — and be done with it. Gwendolyn, as befits her made-in-Japan status, bears a J up front; Sandy, the Mazda 626 I drove before, was about two-thirds domestic, per its label, and carried a VIN starting with 1. (“Two-thirds”? Yes. Mazda shipped the engine from Japan, but the transmission came from Ohio, and most everything else was sourced in the States, often through Ford channels.)

Still, inquiring minds want to know these things, and the NHTSA puts out a list [pdf] every year. In an effort to adjust the figures to accommodate actual production numbers — and to weed out vehicles that won’t be coming back soon, vehicles with lowish NHTSA-rated parts content, and vehicles assembled in the Great White North — cars.com has determined that the most all-American sedan is, um, the Toyota Camry, which comes to us from either Georgetown, Kentucky or Lafayette, Indiana. The first actual domestic nameplate appears at #2: the Ford F-150 truck. GM’s first entry comes in third: Chevrolet’s Malibu.

Toyota, in fact, has four of the top ten, with the new Camry wagon Venza crossover, made in Georgetown alongside its sedan cousin, taking the #10 spot. Chrysler doesn’t place at all; per NHTSA, the most domestic Mopar is the Sebring convertible, listed at 76 percent domestic but not selling worth a hoot. This is, I note with amusement, 9 percent lower than a Saab. (Okay, it’s the 9-7X, which is a variant of the Chevy TrailBlazer, but still, it’s the principle of the thing.)

And interestingly, Mazda’s 6, which replaced the 626, has 45 percent domestic content; the Ford Mustang, built in the same Michigan plant, has 70.

I have to agree with TTAC’s Edward Niedermeyer, though:

While none of this is conclusive in terms of measuring impacts on the American economy, it’s another interesting look at an industry that is far too complicated to measure in terms of pure nationality.

Incidentally, Gwendolyn’s most lineal descendant, the current Nissan Maxima, is made in Tennessee and rates 55 percent.


  1. McGehee »

    7 July 2009 · 12:47 pm

    I don’t remember where I determined my Bronco was assembled, though I think the door plate gave the final-assembly date so it probably gives the location as well. In any event, I’m pretty sure that even by the standards of domestic content (which I’m guessing with some confidence was upwards of 98%) its trip from the line to the Alabama state motor pool in early 1996 wasn’t any great distance.

  2. Monday Evening »

    7 July 2009 · 4:55 pm

    Two short observations…

    Well, buying American is complicated. Here’s my proposed rule: Any sufficiently complex product is made everywhere…

  3. friar's fires »

    7 July 2009 · 9:45 pm

    The All-American Car…

    All I know is that it’s going to sound weird to say, “As American as baseball, apple pie, hot dogs and Toyota Camry.”…

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