THE BLOG
09/12/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2014

Is Buying American-made Important?

At the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch introduction, Apple CEO Tim Cook said "made in America" is critically important. What do you think: Is it important to buy products that are "American-made?" It turns out that phrase isn't as simple as it sounds.

Let's think about it in terms of car shopping. When you're shopping for a new car or certified used car, is it more important to buy from an American company or a company that manufacturers cars in the U.S. (even if that company is based overseas)?

According to a recent AutoTrader.com poll, nearly 60 percent of people surveyed consider a new car to be American-made only if it's built in the U.S. by a U.S.-based company.

I think what's most important is that the car you're considering is actually built in the U.S., even if the automaker is based elsewhere. Here's why.

Big Money

The bottom line: It's all about money. Automakers who build their cars here in the U.S. spend lots of money in the communities where their factories are located.

As you might expect, American companies such as Ford and GM build many of their cars right here in the U.S. Ford builds 16 models in eight different factories within the U.S., and General Motors builds 26 models in 12 different factories around the country. Clearly, if you want the widest variety of American-made cars, you should probably be shopping at a Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet or GMC dealership.

Historically, Chrysler has been an American company, but it's now owned by FIAT, an Italian company. If you really want your new car purchase to benefit American workers, should you leave Chrysler off your shopping list? No. The company continues to build many vehicles in the U.S. -- 10 different models in all.

Not So Foreign

What about companies such as Honda, Nissan, Kia and Toyota? They've always been based overseas, but they build several models here in the U.S.

For example, most Nissan models come from Mississippi and Tennessee. U.S.-built vehicles include the Nissan Altima, Maxima, Quest and the 2015 Murano, as well as trucks including the Titan, Frontier and Xterra. At their Canton, Mississippi, plant alone, the company employs about 5,600 American workers. Nissan also invested more than $2.5 billion in the Canton factory.
The annual payroll for the Canton plant is around $200 million; that's millions of dollars going into the economy of Mississippi, buying people food, clothes, cars, homes, TVs and home-improvement supplies. That same factory is also responsible for about $350,000 in charitable donations every year, and Nissan in general spends about $10 million per year for charities, need-based sponsorships and community relations through programs such as Nissan Neighbors and the Nissan Foundation.

Toyota has been building cars in Kentucky for more than 30 years and has contributed nearly $46 million to nonprofit organizations. BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota and Volkswagen have a similar impact on local communities across the U.S.

Local Communities

Kia's West Point, Georgia, plant dropped about $1 billion on the local economy when the automaker built the factory several years ago. That plant manufactures the Kia Optima and Kia Sorento. Kia recently gave the city of West Point $900,000 to use however the city sees fit. I'm just guessing, but I'll bet that city will use the money on things such as police and fire resources, improving roads, and broader access to city services in general -- all major benefits.

Honda also builds several cars here in the U.S., including the popular Honda Accord. In fact, Honda was the first foreign automaker to build cars in the U.S. In total, Honda has a $15.3 billion investment in the U.S. with nine manufacturing facilities in America alone. There are 530 suppliers across 34 states that provide parts and materials to American Honda manufacturing facilities. Those are real jobs held by real people living and paying taxes in the United States.

Build Where They Sell

There is also a less tangible benefit to buying American. Building cars in the country where you sell helps to save on shipping costs, which can help keep prices down or allow a manufacturer to include more safety features without raising a car's price.

Toyota has stated that its philosophy is to "build where we sell," and the automaker also maintains that being closer to the customer is important. At first, that sounds like a little bit of public relations rhetoric, but I seriously doubt that Toyota would be able to dominate the small-truck, hybrid and midsize-sedan categories the way they have been without investing some serious time and money into learning how average Americans live and work in the places where Toyota sells cars.

Real work and real results are still accomplished with feet on the ground and learning about your customers the old-fashioned way: meeting them in person and seeing how they live firsthand. You can only hold so many webinars and conference calls before you have to actually do something and get your hands dirty. Toyota knows this; the company builds trucks in San Antonio, Texas, and the Camry in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Next time you shop for a new car, think about where it's built. If you want your hard-earned paycheck to benefit your neighbors and fellow Americans, consider a car or truck that's built here in the U.S. That matters a lot more than who owns the company.