President Trump has the automotive industry in his crosshairs.
Concerned about America's trade deficit, he wants to levy tariffs on cars imported from abroad (notably from Germany) and re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in a bid to force automakers to manufacture cars in the US. His strategy has received both criticism and praise across the political spectrum.
What effects would the proposed tariffs have? To shed light on the matter, we’ve ranked America’s 20 best-selling cars in 2017 in ascending order and looked at where they’re built, and when the data are available, where their consituent parts come from too:
20. Hyundai Elantra – Montgomery, Alabama – 198,210 units sold in 2017
Hyundai builds the Elantra, the 20th best-selling car in America in 2017, in its Montgomery, Alabama, factory, a facility with an annual capacity of nearly 400,000 cars. It’s made alongside the Sonata and the new Santa Fe. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes the Elantra’s engine and transmission both come from the US but up to 73% of the other parts that make up the model come from South Korea. The final figure depends on the version buyers choose.
The firm imports the Elantra GT hatchback from South Korea. It’s not as popular as its sedan sibling, it doesn’t appear on the list of America’s 20 best-sellers, so sourcing it from abroad makes sense.
19. Ford Fusion – Hermosillo, Mexico – 209,623 units sold
In 2017, Ford’s American dealers sourced the Fusion from two factories located in Hermosillo, Mexico, and Flat Rock, Michigan, respectively. Production in Ford’s home state began in 2013 due to a surge in demand but recently stopped in the wake of slow sales and dropping profits. In 2018, every Fusion sold in America starts life in Mexico. Flat Rock still produces the Mustang and the Lincoln Continental.
Hermosillo won’t make the Fusion for much longer. The nameplate’s days are numbered as Ford prepares to phase out every passenger car it sells in America with the exception of the Focus Active, which will come from China, and the Mustang. The sedan will soldier on in a handful of other global markets including Europe, where it’s known as the Mondeo.
18. Toyota Highlander – Princeton, Indiana – 215,775 units sold
Toyota makes the Highlander in its Princeton, Indiana, factory. 25% of the parts needed to build a Highlander are imported from Japan. That figure rises to 50% for the hybrid model. Manufacturing the Highlander in America makes sense because it’s the nameplate’s largest market by a long shot.
The Japanese firm began building its Princeton factory in 1996 to manufacture pickup trucks for the American market and circumvent the infamous chicken tax from 1963. Tundra production began in 1999 but moved to San Antonio, Texas, in 2008. Today, Princeton also makes the Sienna and the Sequoia. It manufactured 152,430 vehicles during the first four months of 2018.
17. GMC Sierra – Silao, Mexico; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Flint, Michigan; Oshawa, Canada – 217,943 units sold
General Motors chose to build crew cab trucks like the GMC Sierra and its mechanical twin, the Chevrolet Silverado, in Mexico in a bid to keep both models profitable. The firm’s Silao factory made nearly 400,000 examples of the two trucks in 2017. GM builds the regular and double cab models in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Heavy duty trucks come from Flint, Michigan.
GM’s production footprint changed in early 2018. Fort Wayne started building the brand-new Sierra (pictured) and Silverado models to supplement the Silao factory’s output. Production of the outgoing models continues in Fort Wayne but the trucks travel to Oshawa, Canada, for paint and final assembly. GM expects to build 60,000 trucks in Canada annually until demand drops. Finally, Flint will continue to build the heavy-duty variants when they’re replaced with a new model in late 2019.
The chicken tax signed by American president Lyndon Johnson in 1963 adds a 25% tariff to all commercial vehicles imported to America from abroad. GM takes full advantage of the NAFTA, which fully exempts cars made in Mexico and Canada from the tax.
16. Nissan Sentra – Aguascalientes, Mexico – 218,451 units sold
The Nissan Sentra comes with a “hecho en Mexico” label. Nissan builds it in its Aguascalientes factory and exports it to a large number of countries including Brazil and the US. Aguascalientes has become a major manufacturing hub for Nissan and its partners. It began producing the Infiniti QX50 in late 2017 and it will start making Mercedes-Benz’s new crop of compact models (including the A-Class sedan) in 2018.
15. Ford Explorer – Chicago, Illinois – 238,056 units sold
Ford builds the Explorer and the Taurus side by side in a historic factory located in Chicago, Illinois. The plant stands out as Ford’s oldest continuously-operated car factory. It built its first car, a Model T, in 1924. The list of models to come out of the plant over the past nine decades includes the F-100, the Thunderbird, the Mercury Sable and the Lincoln MKS.
57% of the parts that make up an Explorer (including the engine and the transmission) come from the US or Canada. While the Taurus will fall victim to Ford's passenger car purge, industry sources indicate Chicago will continue to build the Explorer when the next-generation model arrives in 2019.
14. Jeep Grand Cherokee – Detroit, Michigan – 240,696 units sold
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has always lived up to Chrysler’s former “imported from Detroit” slogan. It has called the Jefferson North assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan, home since production of the first-generation model began in 1992. Today, the factory also makes the Dodge Durango. Both SUVs ride on a common platform that traces its roots to the Mercedes-Benz ML.
60% of the parts that make up a Grand Cherokee come from the US or Canada. The engine comes from America, Mexico or Italy depending on the model while Jeep sources automatic transmissions from the US or Germany. Clearly, the Grand Cherokee also reflects Fiat-Chrysler’s international roots.
13. Nissan Altima – Smyrna, Tennessee; Canton, Mississippi – 254,996 units sold
Truly a global car, the Nissan Altima is a one-size-fits-all solution for buyers who need a spacious, comfortable sedan. It was developed in Japan but the American-spec model is built alongside the Rogue in Smyrna, Tennessee. The factory made about 17,000 examples of the Altima during the first four months of 2018.
In 2017, Nissan also built the sedan in its Canton, Mississippi, factory. The facility hasn’t made a single Altima in 2018 but it will resume production when Nissan releases the new 2019 model (pictured).
12. Chevrolet Equinox – Ingersoll, Canada; Ramos Arizpes, Mexico; San Luis Potosi, Mexico – 290,458 units sold
The Equinox stands out as Chevrolet’s second best-selling model. It comes from either Ingersoll, Canada, or one of two Mexican factories located in Ramos Arizpes and San Luis Potosi, respectively. Mexican production accounts for over half of Equinox sales.
Four continuous weeks of strikes disrupted Canadian Equinox production in late 2017. General Motors threatened to ramp up production of the model in Mexico but the strike ended after workers approved a new, four-year long labor contract. Union representatives wanted the Canadian factory to become the lead Equinox supplier, a concession GM refused to make.
11. Ford Escape – Louisville, Kentucky – 308,296 units sold
The Escape is a product of the One Ford strategy aimed at streamlining the company’s global operations. It’s nearly identical to the Kuga, which Ford makes in Spain, Russia and China, but it’s manufactured in Louisville, Kentucky, for the local market. It shares its assembly line – and many of its mechanical components – with the Lincoln MKC.
60% of the parts needed to make an Escape come from the US or Canada while Ford imports another 17% from Mexico. The remaining components come from various suppliers scattered around the world.
10. Toyota Corolla – Cambridge, Canada; Blue Springs, Mississippi – 308,695 units sold
Two factories located in Canada and America, respectively, produce the Toyota Corolla for the American market. Buyers are more likely to take home a Canadian car than an American car. During the first four months of 2018, the Canadian factory made 68,396 cars compared to 50,681 for the American plant.
Toyota also makes the Corolla in Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey, among other nations.
9. Honda Accord – Marysville, Ohio – 322,655 units sold
Honda’s Marysville, Ohio, factory built its first Accord in 1982. It continues to make the sedan today. In 2018, the plant manufactures every single Accord sold new in America. In 2017, Honda dealers received the gasoline-electric hybrid model from Japan. 60% of the parts used in the non-hybrid 2018 model come from Canada or the US, a 10% drop compared to 2017.
8. Honda Civic – Alliston, Canada; Greensburg, Indiana; Swindon, England – 377,286 units sold
Honda’s latest Civic is more American than ever. It was engineered by the firm’s technical center in Ohio and penned by designers in its California studio. Its nationality varies from version to version, however.
Every four-door hatchback (including the hot-rodded Type R) is made in England, though only 20% of the parts that make up the car are British. Honda sources the coupe from Canada while the four-door sedan comes from either Canada or America depending on the variant. All models ride on a common platform shared with the CR-V.
7. Honda CR-V – East Liberty, Ohio; Greensburg, Indiana; Alliston, Canada – 377,895 units sold
Honda opened its East Liberty, Ohio, factory in 1989. It finished expanding the facility in 2016 to boost production of the CR-V, the seventh best-selling vehicle in America in 2017. Engineers working at East Liberty were responsible for building the first set of hard-tooled parts and the complete body units that the nine other factories making the car around the world used to start production.
Honda also makes the CR-V for the American market in Greensburg, Indiana, and in Alliston, Canada.
6. Toyota Camry – Georgetown, Kentucky; Toyota City, Japan – 387,081 units sold
In 2017, Toyota’s American factories manufactured about 1.2 million of the 2,434,515 cars the firm sold in the US. Its Georgetown, Kentucky, factory has made the Camry since it began building cars in May 1988. Toyota shipped engines from Japan early on but it expanded the facility with an engine plant in 1990. Today, 55% of the parts needed to make a Camry come from either the United States or Canada.
The Kentucky plant has become the biggest Toyota factory in the world. It has an annual capacity of 550,000 cars (including the hybrid and non-hybrid variants of Camry, the Avalon and the Lexus ES) and 600,000 four- and six-cylinder engines.
Toyota ships some examples of the Camry from its factory in Toyota City, Japan.
5. Nissan Rogue – Smyrna, Tennessee; Kanda Town, Japan –403,465 units sold
Somewhat confusingly, Nissan lumps Rogue and Rogue Sport sales into a single figure. It’s a misleading practice; the two SUVs share a nameplate and a basic architecture but little else.
The firm’s Smyrna, Tennessee, factory builds the regular Rogue (pictured) using a mix made up largely of Japanese and South Korean parts. Some examples come from Kanda Town, Japan. And while Alliance partner Samsung also built the Rogue in South Korea in 2017, there are no South Korean-built models imported to America in 2018.
The Rogue Sport – which is known as the Qashqai outside of the US – is a 100% Japanese product. It’s made in the same Kanda Town factory as some variants of the Rogue.
4. Toyota RAV4 – Tahara, Japan; Woodstock, Canada – 407,594 units sold
Toyota makes the standard and hybrid variants of the RAV4 in its Tahara, Japan, factory. It’s built alongside the firm’s other SUVs including the Land Cruiser, the Land Cruiser Prado and the 4Runner. The RAV4 has become immensely popular in America, where it’s the best-selling passenger car, so the Tahara facility couldn’t satisfy demand on its own.
In 2005, Toyota announced plans to expand its manufacturing footprint in Canada by opening a factory in Woodstock, a 30-minute drive from the Cambridge plant it inaugurated in 1988. Woodstock makes only the non-hybrid version of the RAV4.
Note: new 2019 RAV4 pictured.
3. Ram pickup – Warren, Michigan; Sterling Heights, Michigan; Saltillo, Mexico – 500,723 units sold
The Ram 1500 comes from one of three plants. The regular cab and quad cab models are built in Warren, Michigan, while the truck factory in Saltillo, Mexico, manufactures the regular cab, crew cab, and mega cab variants. The firm will continue to sell the outgoing model alongside its replacement for buyers who want a cheaper, more basic truck.
The new 1500 introduced for the 2019 model year (pictured) comes to life in Sterling Heights, Michigan, where Chrysler built the slow-selling 200 until it axed the model in late 2016 due to low demand.
Ram also makes the heavy duty-badged trucks in Saltillo, Mexico. In early 2018, it pledged to move production of the next-generation model due out in 2019 to Michigan. The upcoming mid-size truck announced during FCA’s five-year plan could replace the bigger trucks at the Mexican plant.
2. Chevrolet Silverado – Silao, Mexico; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Flint, Michigan; Oshawa, Canada – 585,864 units sold
Historically, the Chevrolet Silverado has stood out from the GMC Sierra with brand-specific emblems on both ends and different variants like the upscale High Country trim level. Designers went to greater lengths to differentiate the two trucks for the most recent generation but the Silverado and the Sierra remain closely related under the sheet metal. The Silverado’s production footprint consequently mirrors the Sierra’s.
1. Ford F-Series – Kansas City, Missouri; Dearborn, Michigan; Louisville, Kentucky; Avon Lake, Ohio – 896,764 units sold
As America’s best-selling vehicle, the F-Series pickup is Ford’s most important product. The various F-Series models (including the F-150, the F-250 and the F-350) could survive and likely thrive as a standalone brand.
The F-Series stands out as the only full-size truck sold in America that is made exclusively in America. Ford builds the F-150 in its home town of Dearborn, Michigan, and in Kansas City, Missouri. The Super Duty models come from either Louisville, Kentucky, or Avon Lake, Ohio. In 2017, F-Series sales were about 8000 units away from reaching parity with Subaru and Mazda sales combined.
America’s most American car
Ask even non-enthusiasts to name an American car and you’ll likely hear the names “Wrangler” and “Mustang.” They’re American icons, true, but they’re not as American as they might seem.
75% of the parts that make up the four-door Wrangler Unlimited come from America or Canada, a figure that places it on par with the Toyota Camry and three points ahead of the Alabama-built Mercedes-Benz C-Class. The Mustang achieves a 52% score.
According to the NHTSA, the new car with the highest percentage of parts sourced from the US or Canada is the Kia Optima (pictured) equipped with either the 1.6- or the 2.4-liter engine. 83% of it is American or Canadian. The agency doesn’t break down parts content between the two countries.