Buy American: Ten 2014 Vehicles That Wave The Stars And Stripes

February 7, 2014
Deciding to buy an American vehicle can sound like a pretty straightforward mission. But as most shoppers focused on that will find out, it's not nearly as clear-cut as it sounds.

To outline flip sides of the argument, and issues you should consider: A vehicle is still the most labor-intensive major consumer purchase you'll likely make—and you want to keep those jobs in the U.S., right? Or is it more important to see the end profits of your purchase go to a company with its headquarters in the U.S.?

We're not going to parse that out for you here; but we believe that they're things you should consider, alongside noting both the assembly point of a vehicle and its North American content.

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And if you're shopping for a new vehicle, that information is as close as the window sticker of each car. As the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), the arm of the federal government overseeing the program, explains, the American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) requires automakers to provide a window-sticker label that shows the percentage of U.S./Canadian parts content, along with the names (and percentage) of other countries that contribute more than 15 percent of the content, the final assembly point, and the country (or countries) of origin for the engine and transmission.

The process can get a little tricky, as vehicle 'carlines' are assigned the same numbers in the AALA listing; so, for instance, if there's a hybrid model, or one model in the lineup that might have different components, it might have quite different numbers. And those numbers don't, of course, reflect the value of the labor put in.

But just looking at these numbers is both surprising, and revealing of the global nature of how many vehicles we get are built. A U.S. brand and a U.S. company doesn't necessarily mean you're going to get a primarily American vehicle.

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Confusing origins from brand to brand, model to model

The Buick Encore, for instance, boasts 53 percent Korean content and 17 percent Chinese content—the largest number from China, among cars currently on sale in the U.S.

And while the Nissan Sentra might be assembled in the U.S., but it has only 16 percent U.S. content (for some versions). The South Carolina-built BMW X3 and X6 don't do much better, at 20 percent American content.

The numbers are also revealing about certain brands. Rolls-Royce, for instance, might be known for its quintessential British charm; but all of its current lineup, ranging from the Drophead Coupe and Phantom up to the Ghost and Wraith, contain 70 percent German content—and just 10 percent UK content.

Buy a Nissan Versa Note—a model from a Japanese (or Japanese-French) brand—and in some respects you're getting a Mexican car; it has nearly 65 percent Mexican content, with final assembly and various major pieces—including the engine and transmission—from our neighbors to the south.

According to AALA percentages for 2014, the GMC Express and GMC Savana are the two most American vehicles for 2014. These two models are essentially fleet-only machines at this point, and we limited our list to vehicles that we've reviewed and evaluated.

Next to that, the Dodge Grand Caravan has the single highest U.S./Canadian parts content, by a slight lead over other models; however it, and the nearly identical Chrysler Town & Country, are actually assembled in Canada. Detroit-area auto-industry might protest that these are locally built vehicles (it's just across the river); but hey, it is a different country. And in our list, we've placed an emphasis on U.S. assembly—since we are U.S.-based, with a primarily U.S. audience.

All ten of these models are about as close as you get nowadays to true American cars: each listed as having 75 (or more) percent U.S./Canadian parts content, and built in the U.S.—with most, if not all, of their labor-intensive powertrain components also assembled in the U.S. Click through to see what we have to say about them, and decide how important American-made is for you:

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