If you’re under the age of 35 or so, you probably can’t imagine the angst many Americans once had about foreign cars. American automakers dominated the domestic market for decades after World War II; when imports began arriving in the U.S. en masse in the 1960s, they were widely ridiculed. But domestic manufacturers got complacent, the imports improved, and some eventually matched or surpassed the sales of models made by Detroit’s Big Three. That sparked a wave of “Buy American” sentiment in the U.S. Today, the lines have become very blurred as to what constitutes an import and a domestic vehicle. Ford and Chevrolet have plants overseas, while foreign automakers have facilities in the U.S. But to illustrate how much things have changed, check out the extensive American parts content and “Made in America” pedigree of some of the following “foreign” vehicles.
5. Mercedes Benz (Several Models)
The finest in legendary German engineering is assembled in … Alabama? Mercedes operates a major manufacturing facility in Tuscaloosa County, Ala. The plant is the sole distribution site for the ML-Class, GL-Class vehicles and GLE Coupe models sold in 135 countries. The state of Alabama donated the 1,000-acre site to Mercedes in 1993. It’s turned out to be a lucrative deal for the state’s economy: Mercedes claims the plant accounts for 22,000 direct and indirect jobs in the area, and provides an annual economic impact of more than $1.5 billion. Mercedes has announced it will invest another $1.3 billion in expanding the facility.
4. Nissan Pathfinder
The American Automobile Labeling Act requires all automakers to account for the percentage of U.S. and Canadian content (based on value) for each model they sell in the U.S. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration releases an annual report with that information. Regarding that whole “domestic vs. foreign” issue, consider this: on the 2016 list, 15 of the top 20 vehicles in terms of most U.S./Canadian content are either Hondas or Toyotas. But other foreign automakers also scored well. The Nissan Pathfinder, which contains 55 percent U.S./Canadian content, is manufactured in Smyrna, Tenn. The automaker opened that facility in 1983. More than 10,000 people are employed in Smyrna and at two powertrain plants in nearby Decherd. And Nissan North American Corporate headquarters in Franklin, Tenn., employs another 1,700 workers.
3. Toyota Sienna
This ubiquitous sight in suburban America became the best-selling minivan in the U.S. in 2015, with 137,497 models sold. That was about 10,000 more than the Honda Odyssey. But both minivans boasted high U.S./Canadian content, at 75 percent. The only vehicles with higher percentages were Honda’s Accord and General Motors’ Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, all at 80 percent. The Sienna is assembled in Princeton, Ind.
2. Honda Accord
No vehicle, domestic or foreign, has a higher percentage of U.S./Canadian parts (80 percent) than the Accord. Honda became the first Japanese automaker to manufacture engines and transmissions in the U.S. in the 1980s, and the company has invested $17 billion in 12 manufacturing facilities. A $4.7 billion plant in Marysville, Ohio, builds the Accord coupes and sedans and Acura sedans sold in North America. The company says that 99 percent of Hondas and Acuras sold in the U.S. in 2015 were made in North America.
1. Toyota Camry
The Camry has been the best-selling car in America for 14 consecutive years, a feat that defies belief in some automotive circles. Cars.com last year called the Toyota the “Most American-Made Car,” the fifth time it’s earned that distinction. The Camry is assembled at Toyota’s plant in Georgetown, Ky. Toyota’s rise in the American marketplace certainly had humble origins; the first Toyota introduced in the U.S. in 1958, the Toyopet Crown, was, in the words of Toyota’s own website, “woefully underpowered and overpriced for the American market.” Sales were discontinued. But by 2008, Toyota had overtaken General Motors for first place in North American sales, although GM has since reclaimed that spot.