American-Made Index: The Role of Exports


The American-Made Index uses sales as a stand-in for the number of assembly-line employees and suppliers. Those assembly-line workers are the largest single chunk of direct employment by an automaker in the U.S. The Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research says roughly two-thirds of the Detroit Three's direct employees are paid hourly: namely assembly-line workers.

Sales are just one way to reflect auto-line employment, however.'s 2013 American-Made Index

Exports throw a wrench into the spokes. They used to be negligible, as high labor costs traditionally discouraged building extra cars here. But recent trends, including increasing new-car sales, ebbing labor costs, relative economic stability and volatile international currency issues have helped to boost U.S. manufacturing. Light-vehicle auto production is up 6.8% year-over-year through the end of May 2013, according to Automotive News, and exports account for a growing slice of the pie. International Trade Commission data show exports increased 82% between 2009 and 2012; they're up another 3.2% in the first quarter of 2013.

Toyota says it ships nine of its U.S.-built models to 23 countries. Matt Blunt, president of the Detroit Three-backed American Automotive Policy Council, says his member companies exported some 958,000 vehicles in 2012 — about 18% of their total U.S. production. And by the end of 2014, Honda expects to export more North American-built cars than it imports, a 180-degree reversal for the automaker.

"Exports are up considerably," said Kristin Dziczek, who directs CAR's Labor and Industry Group. "Relatively, we're getting to be a cheaper labor market, and a mature market that you want to be in to sell to."

Assembly-Based Alternative
Do sales figures alone give an accurate picture of employment for any particular car? After all, BMW built more X3 SUVs in 2012 at its South Carolina assembly plant than Toyota has built Sienna minivans in Indiana, according to Automotive News production figures. But U.S. sales alone, where the Sienna outsold the X3 by more than a 3-to-1 ratio, hid that fact because BMW exports 70% of its South Carolina-built SUVs.

Reimagining the American-Made Index that weighs production numbers (the number of cars coming off factory lines) instead of sales, but using the same domestic-content parameters, creates a list that differs from the original, but not by much.


For all but the most export-heavy cars, production tends to follow sales. What's more, the vast majority of today's cars (even those built here, like the X3) have relatively low domestic-parts content. In fact, just 14 cars for the 2013 model year have 75% or higher domestic parts, out of more than 200 models for which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collected 2013 data. That number was 30 in 2011 and 20 in 2012.

Still, car shoppers want American-made cars. Nearly half the consumers surveyed by in 2012 who only consider Detroit automakers said they would find a car from a foreign-based automaker more appealing if it were built in the United States.

There's more of that going on, says Ron Bookbinder, Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association director.

"In 2012 alone, 3,295,000 vehicles were produced, a significant bounce back to the pre-recession levels of 2007," Bookbinder said. "Contrast this to the early 1980s, when Japanese automakers produced fewer than 100,000 automobiles per year in the United States. Now, as of 2012, fully 70% of Japanese brand sales in the U.S. are produced in North America."

Still, AAPC's Blunt says Japanese automakers along with their European and Korean counterparts could build more. Detroit automakers "have an outsized impact on the American economy," he said. "Two out of three American autoworkers work for Chrysler, General Motors or Ford."

The 2013 American-Made Index
American-Made Index: Which Automakers Affect the Most U.S. Workers?
More American-Made Index News



American Car Shoppers want to buy cars built by Americans, just designed by Europeans, and Asians, then assembled by non UAW employees. That way you can bet they actually have a little bit of pride in what they are doing, versus doing the least amount of work for the most amount of money that their contract will allow.

If there are only 14 cars in the overall list, why did you stop at just the top ten? Why not go ahead and show them all?


" They used to be negligible, as high labor costs traditionally discouraged building extra cars here."

Errr, no. What has changed is the US Dollar exchange rate and the adoption of global platforms for automotive production - probably the biggest change since Ford created the automotive production line.

All those Japanese and Korean imports that are now made in America are here because of the strength of the Won and the Yen vs. the Dollar and other currencies.

Similarly, a 30% appreciation in the value of the Yen is the reason why Toyota has moved production of huge volume cars out of Japan to other countries (e.g., the Prius to Thailand). Labor costs are relative to currency valuations. Automation decimated the number of US auto-workers long before wages and healthcare legacy costs had any discernible impact on profitability.
Just ask any former Ford worker in the UK (where Ford ended production of anything except engines due to the strength of the Pound vs. the Euro) or the Australians they just let go due to the strength of the Aussie Dollar. Or ask Audi about cancelling that US plant when the Euro took a tumble against the Dollar.

Lean production and other efficiency measures will help a bit, but in the end, it's the value of the currency vs. that of other markets that determines whether something is made in the US or somewhere else.

Dave Letendre

2006 Toyota Matrix 320,000 miles. Runs like a champ won't even consider Ford or Chevy or let alone Chrysler.


There is another way to look at this: Where is the Corporate HQ located? Where does the money go to? And then one could also get into the politics of Union vs Non-Union States and the (monies) political games behind all that.

William D Brown

I love the way Americans BLAME Americans for High Labor Costs as the problem.
I guess REALLY High Management Costs aren't the issue........
Dollar Vs other Currency is part of the problem, but IF LABOR is the Problem
Why isnt our High Priced Management part of the problem////


Actually, Mike, If you look at quality metrics of all autos manufactured in North America, UAW vehicles built in the USA have the best metrics, followed by Canadian built autos, then US non UAW cars, then Mexican cars.


96 camry... 250k miles. A to b.


You also have to look at supplier information and whether the US is assembly or manufacturing plant. Anyone can slap together prefabricated pieces of sheet metal from other countries. The majority of the domestics do that. Other auto makers manufacture the cars from rolls of steel being stamped at the plant. That's manufacturing. WHere did they get the supplies, US or abroad? Add those stats to the US Citizens employed. For those that think the money goes overseas, yes it does, but more Americans are employed, which means less Americans on the Unemployment line.
Union vs non union? There are a lot more "Union" people on unemployment in the automotive industry than the non union shops. Those all add up and should be part of the calculation. You can spin the numbers any way you want, but if you want a true listing, you need all the factors.


"probably the biggest change since Ford created the automotive production line."

Ford didn't create the production line. Oldsmobile did.

philip boutell

wether it I a car or a commercial aircraft the fat is the corporation are only interested in final assembly using foreign part often made by slave labor in order to get a foothold in the foreign market and don't forget that they will defy NLRB decision just to drive the unions out


Dave wrote: "2006 Toyota Matrix 320,000 miles. Runs like a champ won't even consider Ford or Chevy or let alone Chrysler."

I have a 2009 Pontiac Vibe (same vehicle as the Matrix, with an American badge.) It's just shy of 100K miles and has had zero problems. You can find quality cars under Detroit badges.


...and, from all the comments above, I think we can all agree that this was a stupid article with a useless list. I, myself, question why not count exports, as long as they are providing jobs in the USA? That is more important than where the parts are sourced from.


''Toyota has moved production of huge volume cars out of Japan to other countries (e.g., the Prius to Thailand).''

The main production base for Prius is still in Japan. Prius that's built in Thailand to satisfy local demand as the govt offer some sort of incentives for hybrids being built locally.

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