POLITICS
01/06/2017 01:15 pm ET Updated Jan 06, 2017

No Car Is Completely Made In America

Donald Trump seems oblivious to automaker supply chains.

WASHINGTON ― President-elect Donald Trump likes sending mean tweets that single out auto companies for not making vehicles in the United States, but there is no such thing as a completely American-made car.

While there are many cars that are ultimately assembled in the U.S., none are composed entirely of American-made parts, thanks to supply chains that go back and forth across national borders.

Federal law requires automakers to disclose the percentage of North American content in a vehicle. The most “American” cars, according to the government’s data for 2016, are the Chevrolet Traverse, the GMC Acadia and the Honda Accord, each of which scored 80 percent.

“When was the last car produced that was 100 percent made in America? it might have been the Model T,” said Frank DuBois, a supply chain expert and professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business. “Nothing is 100 percent made in America.”

Trump has picked on automakers as high-profile examples of firms shifting production to other countries instead of keeping it all in the U.S., a phenomenon Trump blamed on trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement. But the various components of cars and trucks come from all over the place ― it’s not as simple as “made in the USA” or “not made in the USA.” For instance, you could buy an ostensibly Japanese Honda CR-V that was assembled in Mexico with 70 percent American parts.

Along with a percentage, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data indicates the country where vehicles are assembled and the country of origin for the engine and the transmission. Federal law requires manufacturers to stick the info on a label for the benefit of car shoppers.

DuBois said the federal car content info has some shortcomings, including that it lets automakers round up and even count Canadian parts as American. So DuBois puts out his own list, which builds on the federal data and is called the Kogod Made in America Auto Index.

Because it includes criteria on the location of a vehicle’s development and its company’s corporate headquarters, the Kogod list gives the Honda Accord a lower rank in favor of autos made by American companies. Three GM vehicles share the top spot: the Buick Enclave, the Chevy Traverse and the GMC Acadia.

This week, Donald Trump attacked GM and Toyota on Twitter for making certain cars abroad, but the president-elect flubbed facts in each case. On Tuesday he chided GM for selling a Mexican-made version of the Chevy Cruze in the U.S., even though the vast majority of Cruzes sold here last year were made in Ohio. The car scores about 60 percent on both the government and DuBois’ lists.

On Thursday Trump blasted Toyota for allegedly building a Corolla plant in Baja, Mexico. The new plant will actually be in Guanajuato; the company announced the move in 2015 and said it was shifting production to Mexico from Canada, not the U.S.

“Toyota has been part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. for nearly 60 years,” the company said this week. “Production volume or employment in the U.S. will not decrease as a result of our new plant in Guanajuato, Mexico announced in April 2015.”

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