Tesla the Most American Car Company? (Pretty Much)

Last year Tesla was the only car company to assemble 100% of their cars in America. The only others that came close were Jeep, Caddilac, and Dodge which barely broke 80%. When I was up at the Tesla factory this past June, I learned that Tesla makes 100% of their cars here in California. It got me thinking, are they the most American car company?

When it comes to measuring how American a car is, there are two variables to consider. The first variable is where the company sources the materials and the other is where they assemble the final product.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration publishes a report each year listing the percentage of a vehicles engine, transmission, and assembly that originate in either the US or Canada.

The American Automobile Labeling Act (AALA) defines a passenger motor vehicle as a motor vehicle designed to carry not more than 12 persons with a gross vehicle weight rating not higher than 8,500 pounds (3,800kg) and includes multipurpose passenger vehicles and light duty trucks.

source: AALA for 2017

So we have two categories here and three measurements. The first we can call content origin, then the second we can call assembly.

The ALA breaks these two variables down by each model, so we need to roll that up by the manufacturer to see those numbers at the company level.

First, let’s answer the question about where these companies assemble their cars. As I mentioned I had to aggregate this data up to the manufacturer level so that we’re not looking at individual models from the survey, and as it turns out, maybe you guessed, Tesla is the most American car company when it comes to assembly location.

We’re looking at this by Manufacturer, and as you can see it’s a stark contrast from first to second place, but if we drill down to the brand it’s a bit closer.

Tesla still ranks #1 but Jeep is a close second, and right behind them you have Acura making up the only 3 with over 80% of their cars made in America.

Assembling the car is one thing, but where those parts come from is another. If we look at which cars are the most American based on the source of their parts, Tesla falls to #3 behind Fiat Chrysler and Honda.

When you break it down by brand, Tesla drops even further, all the way to #9 This is likely to change however as Tesla has stated they aim to source 100% of their materials in a sustainable way from North America. Tesla is at a disadvantage here though because the key ingredients in their car batteries just don’t exist, or at least aren’t commercially available in North America (src).

The lithium in the lithium-ion batteries primarily comes from the Atacama desert in Chile and the other, even more, scarce resource, cobalt, mainly comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

So it’s hard to see how Tesla could improve this metric much, but the show isn’t over, we still need to crown an overall winner.

Using the method from Kogod School of Business who publish an auto-index themselves, I added the percent assembly and percent of content origin together then divided them by two, giving us an overall score.

Coming in at #1 you may have guessed it; Tesla is the most American car company overall. When looking at it by the manufacturer we have Honda coming in second, Fiat Chrysler third, GM fourth, and Ford rounding out the top 5.

If we break this down by brand instead, we’ll see the Tesla is still on top, but it’s a much closer race with Jeep coming in a close second and Acura not far behind.

I was pretty surprised to see GM so low here, but with their global presence, it makes sense that they would have a lot of cars made overseas for different markets. Tesla is likely to change as they grow as well. Already news outlets are reporting that they’ll likely open up a plant in China soon with Elon also stating they’re planning a few more gigafactories to address global demand.

So with all that said and done, if you were concerned at all about buying a Tesla supporting a foreign entity you can rest easy. The dollars you spend with Tesla go the furthest to help the US economy according to the data we have here.

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And let me know what you think about this in the comments below!