Want an American car? Good luck

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I was sitting on the sofa watching the local news last week when I was pummeled with red, white and blue car commercials celebrating Presidents Day.

The graphics were cool, the jingles lively, and I knew Uncle Sam would be proud of car dealers’ attempt to marry commercialism, capitalism and patriotism all in one shiny, 30-second package.

But there was one small problem: None of the cars advertised were American.

In rapid succession a Toyota commercial was followed by ads from Subaru, Toyota trucks and, finally, Honda. My first thought was wow, what would the local TV stations do without automobile dealerships as loyal advertisers. And, once I had realized I had just seen four Japanese car commercials in a row, my next thought was, hmm, is it possible to buy a car that is actually made in America?

A quick Google search gave me the answer: Yes. And no.

As it turns out, there’s a handy website that educates prospective car buyers as to what percentage of the components in a new car is made in America. It’s called the Kogod Made in America Auto Index.

Researched and presented online by American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington, D.C., the index apparently started in 2013 and is current through the 2016 model year, with 338 vehicles listed.

None of them are 100 percent American-made. But three come close: Scoring 90 out of 100, the Buick Enclave, Chevy Traverse and GMC Acadia tied as the top vehicles in terms of total domestic content.

The list takes into account seven categories for scoring purposes: Where the automaker is headquartered, where the vehicle is assembled, where the vehicle was designed (research and development), where the engine is produced, where the transmission is produced, and where the body, chassis and electrical components are produced. The last category involves inventory, capital and other expenses.

There are some interesting revelations.

First, many Mainers will be happy to know that the Ford F-150 pickup – one of the state’s best-selling vehicles – placed just behind those top three vehicles with a score of 85. And Chevy Corvette aficionados will take pride that their classic American joyride also placed high, with total domestic content of 83.

The Corvette, for me personally, is representative of why the Kogod list is intriguing. Having been to the factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, I thought the Corvette was an American car, made totally in America. After the visit, I set the goal of someday owning a Corvette because it is such a beautiful and well-made car – and because it was made in America.

Or so I thought before reading the Kogod listing.

While the uber-impractical Corvette may be only in my dreams at this point, my car, a humble Japanese import, is almost as American-made as a Ford or Chevy. Yes, my Honda Accord ranks 81 out of 100, placing it fifth in the rankings for 2016. That’s higher than a Jeep Wrangler, Ford Taurus or any Cadillac.

I knew Honda did some manufacturing in America, but I never knew it ranked right up there with American legacy brands from General Motors and Ford.

I also checked the Kogod list for how the other cars advertised in those four Presidents Day commercials fared. While the Toyota Prius C ranked dead last on the Kogod list with absolutely no domestic content (the Prius scored a paltry 3.5), the Toyota Sienna and Camry tied for a respectable eighth place, with a score of 78.5.

Subaru didn’t fare as well. The Legacy and Outback models, which are common on Maine roads, tied for 44th place with a total domestic content of 42.5.

The Kogod list, while intriguing for someone like me, who would like to someday buy an American car, proves the new reality that most major consumer and manufactured goods are the result of a global marketplace.

Honda, for example, has manufacturing plants in India, Canada, China, Taiwan, Pakistan, Brazil, Indonesia, Thailand and other foreign countries – in addition to American plants in Ohio, Alabama and Indiana.

Multinational conglomerates rule the vehicle industry, and while it would be nice to purchase a car wholly made in America, it’s apparently impossible. The best we can do is get a 90 percent American car.

So the next time someone tells you they want to buy a new American car, break it to them gently that that’s a pipe dream. And then tell them to check the Kogod list for the next best thing.

Or point them to the classifieds for an antique made prior to globalization.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.