- The federal American Automotive Labeling Act — which requires domestic parts and assembly information on window stickers — has too much of a "fudge factor" to accurately reflect a vehicle's true "localness," says the index's author, a global supply chain expert at American University.
- Vehicles from Toyota and Honda are the highest-ranking products from a non-U.S. maker, tied at No. 12 on the list.
- It's unclear whether a car's U.S. pedigree really matters to car shoppers.
Both vehicles scored 87.5 on the index's 100-point scale.
This is the second year that Frank DuBois, a global supply chain expert and associate professor at American University's Kogod School of Business, has released the index. He developed it as an alternative to the American Automotive Labeling Act (AALA), published each model year since 1994 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It lists vehicles according to their percentage of both U.S. and Canadian parts and content — a legacy of the time when carmakers said it was too difficult to sort out which parts came from north of the border. It also shows the source of the vehicle's engine and transmission, and where it was finally assembled.
DuBois cites that Canadian/U.S. parts aggregation, as well as other issues, as reasons for his development of an alternate list to help people who want to shop for "American" cars — a label that's increasingly difficult to apply with accuracy.
The Kogod Made in America Auto Index, by contrast, bases its score on a wider variety of factors, including the country in which a carmaker is headquartered; where research and development are done; whether the car is built in the U.S. and the location of production for the engine, transmission, body, interior, chassis and electrical components.
The result is a somewhat different ranking of what cars are the most American. On the 2014 AALA list, for example, the vehicles with the greatest percentage of U.S./Canadian content (80 percent) are the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans. They are ranked at No. 4 on the Kogod index, largely because their transmissions come from Mexico.
The top-ranking vehicles in the 2014 Kogod Made in America Auto Index that come from carmakers based outside the U.S. are the 2014 Honda Odyssey minivan, 2014 Honda Ridgeline truck, 2014 Honda Crosstour hatchback, 2014 Toyota Camry sedan and 2014 Toyota Tundra. All tied at No. 12 on the list with an index score of 78.5. All are built in the U.S.
DuBois said he doesn't know if having a born-in-the-U.S.A. car is really important to buyers. He said shoppers look at a wide range of factors when they buy: Does the car meet their needs? What do friends and family think? What do sites like Edmunds have to say?
A 1999 study commissioned by NHTSA found that the government-required AALA labeling didn't much affect car purchases, he said. There have been no follow-up studies.
"I'm still waiting for someone to do a study to figure out whether this makes a huge impact," he said.
Here is the full list of 318 vehicles on the 2014 Kogod Made in America Auto Index.
For more on how foreign carmakers affect the U.S. economy, please read Edmunds' analysis: "Foreign Cars Made in America: Where Does the Money Go?"
Edmunds says: There are surely some car shoppers who want their cars to be red, white and blue through and through. But for most, a car's nationality is less important than its price tag, features, safety and daily durability.