Problems With the AALA
DuBois, whose background includes a stint as a Volkswagen mechanic, is critical of the AALA. He developed the Kogod Made in America Auto Index as a more comprehensive way for consumers to judge a car's American pedigree.
While DuBois incorporates information from the AALA into the Kogod index, he says that the law has some significant flaws that reduce its usefulness for American-car shoppers.
For example, the law lets carmakers overstate the "American-ness" of their vehicles. "If you have 70 percent U.S. and Canadian content, you can round that up to 100 percent," for reporting purposes under the law, he says.
The only way to know for sure where the car was assembled is to check the first letter or digit on the vehicle identification number (VIN). Cars assembled in the U.S. start with a 1, 4 or 5. Cars assembled in Japan have VINs beginning with a J. Canadian-assembled cars begin with a 2. Cars assembled in England begin with an S. German-assembled cars begin with a W. Korea is a K and Mexico is a 3.
Some carmakers separate variants within a car line in their AALA reports. Toyota separately lists its 2015 Avalon Hybrid, for example, which is not as all-American as its much-publicized gasoline-engine cousin. The conventional Avalon is U.S.-built, with 70 percent U.S. and Canadian content. The Avalon Hybrid, also built in the U.S., has just 40 percent U.S./Canadian content.
A Different Way To Keep Score
The AALA's list is a pure parts-and-assembly report. It doesn't look at broader economic impacts related to the car, DuBois says. He believes that should be a factor in determining how American a car is. The AALA doesn't consider where a car's research and development took place, where a carmaker made capital investments or where the profits go. For a more detailed look at such questions, read "Foreign Cars Made in America: Where Does the Money Go?"
The Kogod Made in America Auto Index does account for such factors, including where the carmaker is headquartered, where the car is assembled, where research and development are done and the location of production for the engine, transmission, body, interior, chassis and electrical components. The result is a different ranking of which cars are the most "American."
Does it sound a little complicated? It is. For those who haven't done research before they go shopping for an "American" car, the easiest thing to do is zero in on a vehicle from a U.S.-based carmaker, and then find where it was assembled by reading the "parts content information" that should be shown on or near the window sticker.