Tesla takes the title of most American-made car
If you need a little more justification to take the plunge and buy a Tesla, consider this: it’s your patriotic duty to do so. Tesla has always touted its credentials as an American company that’s creating good-quality American jobs, and now independent research confirms that a Tesla is the most American-made car you can buy.
Above: A patriotic Tesla color combo at the Supercharger station (Source: Tesla)
Cars.com has been publishing its American-Made Index for 16 years, and now, for the first time, Tesla has taken the number-one spot. Tesla’s Model 3 topped the list for 2021. In second place was the Ford Mustang (the legacy gas version, not the electric Mach-E), and in third place was another Tesla, Model Y. (The Jeep Cherokee took fourth place, and the Chevrolet Corvette took fifth.)
Tesla appeared in the American-Made Index last year—in fact, all three of its then-current vehicles made the top 10. This year, Cars.com was forced to leave Models S and X out of the rankings because it didn’t have sufficient data, due to the updated versions that went on sale early in the year.
Ranking the “American-madeness” of vehicles is not as simple as it might seem. In this age of global supply chains, many cars bearing foreign nameplates are built in the US—four of the top ten made-in-America models are from Honda (assembled in Lincoln, Alabama), and one is from Toyota (San Antonio). On the other hand, many cars sold by “baseball, hot dogs and apple pie” brands such as GM are assembled in Mexico.
Furthermore, it’s not just about where final assembly takes place. Cars.com considers five major criteria in its rankings: assembly location, parts content, engine origins, transmission origins, and US manufacturing workforce.
Teslas sold in the US are assembled at the company’s Fremont, California plant. The battery packs and most of the cells come from Gigafactory 2 in Nevada.
Above: A look at this year's most American-made cars (YouTube: Cars.com)
The most important criterion in Cars.com’s American-Made Index is the final assembly location. There are 45 US plants currently mass-producing light-duty passenger vehicles, run by 14 major automaker groups and their subsidiaries. However, automakers and third-party suppliers operate many additional plants to build powertrains, castings, stampings, batteries and other vehicle parts, and the fact that a given model comes from a US assembly plant doesn’t always mean exclusive US assembly, so Cars.com takes that into consideration as well.
Another factor in the rankings is the percentage of US- and Canadian-made parts: The 1994 American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) requires automakers to report the overall percentage of US and Canadian content, by value, for most cars.
Cars.com also considers the country of origin for the two most cost-intensive components of a (legacy) vehicle—the engine and transmission. Sorting this out can “quickly become a labyrinth,” as a given model might source engines from different countries. Some models have half a dozen possible combinations of sources for their engines and transmissions. Of course, for electric vehicles, this metric isn’t relevant, as the battery is by far the most expensive component, and most EVs don’t have much in the way of a transmission. Presumably, Cars.com will update its methodology in the next year or two.
The data automakers report under the AALA doesn’t directly reveal the number of jobs attributable to each model’s production, so Cars.com measures this as a separate category. “We analyze each automaker’s direct US workforce involved in the manufacture of light-duty vehicles and their parts, factored against that automaker’s US production footprint, to determine its workforce factor.”
The fact that Teslas are the most American-made cars you can buy is probably not widely known. It certainly isn’t (or wasn’t) known to the parking lot staff at GM’s Wentzville Assembly Plant in Missouri, where a Tesla owner recently received a parking ticket for parking in a lot reserved for domestic vehicles.
Some automakers reserve the best parking spaces at their facilities for American-made vehicles. You want to buy a foreign car? Fine, but you ain’t parkin’ it next to my flag-wrapped pickup truck! An unenlightened parking attendant apparently assumed the Tesla was a foreign brand, and gave it a ticket, not realizing that it was more American than the GM vehicles being assembled inside the plant.