Which Foreign-Owned Carmakers Build the Most in America?


Last year, Honda built more cars at its Alabama, Indiana and Ohio facilities than it did in Japan — 826,440 versus 710,621, according to data from Automotive News and the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. It's the first time Honda's U.S. production topped production in its home country.


But that's a situation unique to Honda. Ten foreign-owned automakers assemble cars in the U.S., and the majority of them build most of their cars at home.

Honda never planned for things to unfold this way. Spokesman Ed Miller said the automaker "never had a goal one way or the other," but last year's natural disasters forced all automakers to slash production across Asia.

Indeed, Honda assembled some 40 percent more cars in Japan in 2010. But even then, the automaker nearly matched that figure with its U.S. production: "What we try to do is match our capacity and all the overhead that goes with it with the customer demand," Miller said. "But, you know, it's never an exact science."

It's a science that Honda's contemporaries have not felt compelled to learn. Five Japanese automakers — Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Subaru — assemble cars in the U.S. In 2011, they built nearly 1.6 million light-duty vehicles here. That's a small figure compared to what they build in Japan. Even in the disaster-curtailed year of 2011, the five automakers built 5.7 million cars, excluding heavy-duty trucks and commercial vehicles, in their home country.


Source: Automotive News data and Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Figures exclude commercial vehicles and heavy-duty trucks.

Japanese automakers might build more cars in Japan, but Korean and German automakers have a wider gulf between what they build at home and what they build in the U.S. Hyundai-Kia built 624,478 cars stateside last year, versus 3.3 million in South Korea. Three German carmakers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen — built 450,287 passenger vehicles stateside in 2011. Officials at those three automakers wouldn't disclose how many cars they built in Germany last year, but the German Association of the Automotive Industry estimates German automakers assembled some 5.9 million vehicles in Germany in 2011. It's a post-war all-time high for that country.


Why the difference? Part of the reason lies in market share. In 2011, Japanese brands reaped 36 percent of all U.S. new-car sales, according to Automotive News. European carmakers, by contrast, had 9.8 percent. A decade ago, Japanese brands had 28.5 percent of the market, while European brands had just 7.6 percent.

"If you're an automaker from overseas that's opening up a new market, initially, production [in that market] doesn't make sense," said Bernard Swiecki, a senior project manager at Ann Arbor, Mich.'s Center for Automotive Research. "That assembly plant doesn't make sense from a level of investment until you have a critical mass" in sales.

BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen operate four passenger-vehicle assembly plants in the U.S., compared to a dozen plants for Japan-based automakers. The first German plant — BMW's Spartanburg, S.C., facility - opened up in 1994. By then, Honda's Marysville, Ohio, facility had been churning out Accords and Civics for 12 years.


European brands have been in the U.S. for decades, but low sales have limited higher production — so even the cars that are sold here are largely imported. Japanese auto production, in contrast, generally follows U.S. sales. William Duncan, who heads JAMA's U.S. office, noted that Japanese automakers assemble close to 70 percent of the vehicles they sell in the U.S. in North America. That production ratio has been relatively constant, ranging from 62 to 68 percent over the past 15 years, JAMA says. That beats European and Korean carmakers, but it falls short of Detroit automakers, who build nearly all the vehicles they sell in the U.S. in North America. There's certainly little aversion to producing here.

"Producing in one region and selling in another is not always the best approach, when taking into consideration supply lines, shipping costs, differing regulatory standards and — particularly — consumer preferences," Duncan said. " 'Investing where the market is' appears to be a common, but not exclusive, strategy for most of the world's auto companies."

This story is part of a joint series about automotive manufacturing in the U.S. by Cars.com and USA Today.

By Kelsey Mays | April 25, 2012 | Comments (29)


Agent Mike

None of the overseas auto makers that build in the US use UAW membership in their plants. and yet they are a quality built car, at a reasonable price and typically better value for money the UAW built automobiles. Hmmm I think there might be something to this?


@Agent Mike
"Hmmm I think there might be something to this?"...for the UAW its called benefits and profit sharing.


At this point there is almost parity between uaw and transplant costs. The starting salary for new uaw people is lower than some of the foreign owned plants. Uaw isn't a good reason to not buy american cars. If it ever was in the first place. And I doubt any of those claims of higher quality can be verified. Assembly is only a small factor in reliability anyway.


The UAW has destroyed the American auto industry. All the bureaucracy that comes with the UAW drives up the prices of cars, then quality has to be cut to keep prices in control...Ahem...GM anyone?


the majority of the cars sold here aren't assembled by the uaw. How in the world can the uaw make all cars more expensive when 55% of the vehicles sold here are from foreign brands? You make no sense. Uaw has about as little impact on prices or the industry at large as its ever had.


You make no sense. The UAW was instrumental in the collapse of GM. They would not take any concessions and retirement costs were out of hand. They cut quality to control costs, and it was passed to the consumers with lower quality cars. GM LOST money building the Cobalt and other models. That is why most Cobalts are in the junkyard now becuase the build quality had been so poor. That's a fact. Someone has to pay for it and it's ALWAYS the consumer one way or another. I didn't say the UAW made ALL cars more expensive. You obviously do not have a clue on how a basic business model works.



Lol at your rant. Please learn difference between facts and opinions. Most cobalts are in the junk yard due to poor build qualty? That's one of the silliest things I've heard on this site. And that's saying something. You don't have a shred of proof to back up that absurd statement. In 2007 the uaw agreed to significant concessions on wages and retirement benefits, its one reason detroit 3 are profitable now. Ford never went bankrupt and they use uaw labor so your argument that the uaw sent gm under doesn't hold water. Its total bs. All of the big 3 were constrained by the uaw at one point but those days are over. Costs are comparable to the import plants and you have nothing to verify your claims that uaw products are low quality. As I said, the actual assembly of the vehicle has little to do with how the product stands up over time. Those are design and engineering issues. German cars are well assembled but not as reliable as asian vehicles. You are trying to connect two things that aren't related. Vws have been well made for years but they just got their quality under control relatively recently.

L.M.C. & Co.

If you notice the luxury brands are usually built in the country of origine. Audis BMW (except the SUVs) are built in Germany, Lexus are built in Japan Etc. So that might explain way German manufactures built so many more in Germany than abroad.


I have to jump on the UAW is a problem bandwagon. Unions were a necessity during the industrial revolution. Now, they are antiquated bureacracies that drive up costs and encourage the deskilling of labor. Concessions have recently been made by the UAW because the members had no choice.

I lived in Ohio during my young adult life and knew a lot of GM UAW members. Incomes over 80K/year were common for assembly line workers. They could elect to work Sundays and make double overtime pay - over $60 an hour. Ridiculous.


@ Sheth
LOL at your ignorance.
You seem to read half the article and make up the statistics on your own. I am referring to the UAW and the collapse of the American auto industry, READ the Wall Street Journal! Product cost and quality was cut to accomidate the ridiculous benefits provided by the Big 3. I already know about the restructuring you seem to be referring to, so what is exactly your point?

Mike 2

Toyota Plant workers in the U.S. now make $2 MORE per hour than GM workers. Besides that, the economics professor at my university says that for every $25,000 spent on foreign-owned vehicles, the U.S. loses OVER $500,000 off of it's GDP. Ultimately, buying a Toyota or a Honda is one of the most UNpatriotic things an American can do.



Complicated issues never have simple explanations. There are literally dozens of reasons the American auto industry went under. The UAWwas one factor bit mainly due to contracts signed many years ago. The union has had a decent relationship with the automakers for some time now. As I said before,the concessions they made back in 2007 are one reason the Detroit 3 are currently making money. Cars are mostly assembled by robots these days ago don't tell me there is some huge difference between UAW assembled cars and others.


Unions are a JOKE!

American cars are a JOKE!

If American car companies made an attractive, reliable and over all quality product I would stop buying BMW/Lexus and support my country.

Until then, forget it!


American cars have been inferior to Japanese cars for nearly years because the profits poured into share price and dividends by the Americans are totally out of whack compared to their Japanese counterparts. Yes, GM has had to cut corners, but not so the guys dropping engines can all go out and buy Cadillacs... it's so the shareholders can buy second houses, boats and, yes, Beemers.



Your stance is absurd. You add way out of touch with the current state of themarket. Please join us in the present and get out of the 1980s mindset. Buying cars solely based on where the manufacturer is based is so outdated.


There is also another factor that needs to be looked at; "Assembling" a car versus "Manufacturing" a car. Assembly is slapping together parts that come from wherever, similar to what Ford and GM do. Manufacturing MAKES the car and the majority of the parts used. I think a second story looking into that while looking at both foreign and domestic vehicles would be great.

As for the non union workers, if you pay well, have a great track record of taking care of your employees, and give excellent benefits, why would the workers chose to make less for less?



No I am not absurd, unions are a joke and American automobiles are total crap!

I buy new cars every few years and I look at everything at purchase time (domestic & import)

Japanese and German cars are WAY better quality than their American counterparts, not to mention they look a lot nicer.

I think you are the one who is "out of touch" or you just don't know what the hell you are talking about.



And I forgot to mention, the resell value on American automobiles is also a joke.


Everybody needs to keep in mind that everything built in Germany, even BMWs, are built by well-paid union workers. In fact by law, German Boards of Directors must have 50% union representation. This means their unions have a lot of power, but also a lot of responsibility to the shareholders. Another difference in Germany is that salaries are flatter across the board - managers aren't paid much more than the workers; they're just considered workers with a different specialty, and their CEOs make a tiny fraction of what US CEOs make. When Benz bought Chrysler, the Chrysler CEO was making a salary that would have been considered obscene in Germany. Germany, by the way, still has a manufacturing-based economy and a large trade surplus.


I won't respond to your union claims as Stan has already done that. I would like to respond to your quality claims. In point of fact, while most Japanese brands do indeed top the list of quality brands, in point of fact the German brands score worse than most Ford products. Mercedes Benz scores only slightly better than Jeep, and Audi scores slightly worse. My source: http://knol.google.com/k/james-bleeker/automobile-quality-by-car-brand-and/3o3u27f0whd6k/2# Please note that this source uses data from Consumer Reports.


There's a reason the U.S. car makers needed bailing out. They designed junk and wanted the tax payers money to re-tool. Not a union problem. I had a new 6cyl. Dakota which got worse than crummy mileage from the get-go. Kept it years longer than normal thinking the dinosaurs running things would wake up. They didn't.
Got a new Tacoma this time. Great mileage. Great truck. Sometimes it about the cars not the workers.



You sound so ignorant I have to wonder if you are being serious. Perhaps you are just an over the top troll. Its hard to believe someone with such a lack of a grasp on reality would even be able to afford a Lexus or BMW. The metrics on quality are out there for anyone who wants to research them. Check out JD powers for reference. Even CR admits (if you look hard enough) that overall quality is much higher than it used to be across the board. Today supposedly unreliable American cars are more reliable than imports of 20 or 30 years ago. CR presents its data in such a way that you can't really get a real idea of how reliability of today's cars stacks up, but they have admitted that quality has increased for American brands. Your opinions are "crap" and have no basis in fact.

As others have noted, German cars are made with union labor and European unions are FAR more powerful and inflexible than US unions. Ford and GM are losing money in Europe right now partially due to the unions and the fact that they can't close plants. Only in America are people ignorant enough to go around proudly proclaiming they won't drive a car made in their own country while buying cars imported from overseas that are produced by union members who have more generous compensation than the union members in their own country. You hate unions but drive German cars. Surely you can understand how ironic and hypocritical that sounds.



Thanks for the update on the state of American vehicles in 1990. Great help there. You are certainly on top of things.


All this defending of the American workforce but you went out and bought a re-badged Opel Insignia. Built by an American named Hans, right? Calm it down a notch.


I can never understand why Sheth is the only one who defends American companies. Even cars.com shows the Caddy CTS and Cruze both have below average reliability. So it's no sense in defending crap made cars. Yet he will post again. I just know it! Just sayin'...

joe procakiewicz

You people seem to miss one very important aspect of foreign cars. Most of the are from communistic countries that take the golden egg nest back to their countries. Where is your patriotism to America.


Thanks for the info, Joe. I wasn't aware that Japan, South Korea or Germany were communist countries.


If foreign cars were so bad, why do people keep buying them? If it weren't for domestic manufacturers playing catch up to the Asian brands, imagine what we would be driving now? Hey Joe, how's your 2014 Vega doing? Frank, does your 2013 Pinto have electric windows? Need some more oil Mary for your 2012 Gremlin? Yeah, good times. But that was then and now there is an abundance of great cars made by many manufacturers. Domestic cars have gotten better, because they HAD to. I call that a win-win.

Mark Mills

I have always bought American made vehicles, but I have bought my last.The U.A.W. membership elects leadership that spends dues on getting democrats elected which is destroying this country.Buying U.A.W. is un-American

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