A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Hours of Research


I am, at times, as cynical as the next American.  It’s hard not to be when living near Washington, DC – – 45 square miles surrounded by reality.  I was here when Marion Barry was mayor.  I was here when the anti-capitalism protestors marched on the WTO meetings wearing their new NIKE gym shoes.

The other day, on the mean streets of suburban DC, I came to a full and complete stop (my vehicle was assembled in Toledo, OH, by the way, and ranks 7th on the American Made Index (AMI), but more about that later at a red light behind a Ford F-150 pickup truck with a license plate that read “BUY AMRCN”.   My eyes darted from license plate to name plate and back.  I felt the discomfort that comes from simultaneously experiencing conflicting reactions creating questions I couldn’t answer while jumping to conclusions.

Buy American!  Well done!  Yay!  I’m all for it.  But, my enthusiasm was tempered by my ignorance of where the F-150 is made and how much domestically made content it employs.


I didn’t know if the driver of the car was a charlatan, a hero or something in between.  I wanted to rid myself of the cognitive dissonance by calling the driver out.  I didn’t.  It was New Year’s Day and I assumed the driver of the truck had a hangover as bad as mine (plus, well, manners dictate that I resist the urge).  Also, I was too busy fumbling for my camera to get a picture.

I was so unsure of my beliefs that I set out to prove for myself just what was what— just how “made in America” is that Ford F-150?  The American Made-Index (AMI) published by cars.com explains that the F-150 has 60% domestically manufactured content.   The AMI rates vehicles on where supplied parts are manufactured as well as where the vehicle is ultimately assembled.   The index disqualifies “models with a domestic parts content rating below 75 percent” from consideration for its annual top 10 lists.  Ouch.  The F-150 didn’t even compete this year.  But 60% of the best-selling full-size pickup that retails for somewhere around $25,000 isn’t too bad…is it?

After all, F-150’s are assembled in Claymore, MO and Dearborn, MI.  These are two very American cities.  Yay!  However, in a global economy, it’s not easy to find out just how truly “American” a car is, as many cars built in the U.S. are assembled using parts from other countries. For example, more than 15 percent of Ford’s parts come from Mexico, although all of its engines and both transmission systems are built in the U.S. Some transmissions for the Mustang (assembled in Flat Rock, Michigan) come from China.

Borrowing from Klein and Rubenstein’s Who Really Made Your Car? published by the Upjohn  Institute in 2008, I set out to map where all the components of a Ford F-150 are manufactured.  I had to know if the F-150 is an appropriate billboard for buying American.  Also, it seemed fitting (in keeping with my road-theme) to make a map of Ford F-150 suppliers.  What I found is lots of American companies located in American cities are making things that make the F-150 drive, stop, comfortable, powerful and safe.

Ultimately, laziness and time constraints got the better of my ambition.  Ford has thousands of suppliers, both domestic and foreign that supply tens-of-thousands of parts.  I had to stop.  It turns out the F-150, once the clear leader of the AMI list, has been unseated by the Toyota Camry, and second place is held by the Honda Accord. In fact, Detroit automakers held only 5 spots in this year’s top 10.

It may seem like a fair assumption that a car from a Detroit automaker must be “American”.  However, production and assembly now often occur in Canada or Mexico and parts can be manufactured around the world.  That can change from year to year. The F-150 only last year was still ranked as highly American-made and had held or tied for the top spot on the AMI for years running. In fact, half the models in last year’s AMI didn’t make it back due to a decline in domestic parts content. In past years the F-150 has held steady around 80 percent domestic parts content; even last year’s redesign, which had the potential to change the figures, returned a respectable 75 percent rating.

What’s a consumer to do when the Toyota Tundra is assembled in San Antonio while the Chevy Aveo is made in Korea?  After all, it’s impossible to find a 100% made in America car now. According to an industry analyst, consumers who want to buy American primarily should look at where the vehicle is assembled, as often that indicates a large presence in manufacturing and beyond… which means our F-150 remains a solid choice for supporting American workers.

Rock on, F150 dude!  And, keep up the positive BUY AMRCN advertising.

And, just for fun, if you’re curious about your own car, click here.

About Author

Mark Schmit

Mark Schmit has served multiple roles while with MEP and is currently the National Accounts Manager. In this role he is responsible for developing partnerships with both the public and private sector entities. Mark identifies new business opportunities that leverage state and federal funding with the goal to improve the competitiveness of US-based manufacturers. His major area of focus is supply chain improvement.


  1. Phillip Wadsworth on

    Great observation and comment – as you point out this is complex.

    I met with a good friend, Police Chief for a local city and he is looking at buying some new Police cruisers. His City Council wants the “Buy America” cruiser but are they made in the US? As the conversation continued we talked about different makes and models but as some of the dealers have been closed recently – Ford was ruled out as all of the cruiser service and repair (a lot of repair to police cruisers!) would need to be done out of the City – hence no revenue to local businesses.

    In the end he only had one choice – so now he 5 new cruisers on order

  2. Very interesting and informative. I drive a Mustang and I wondered just how American made it is but didn’t know where to look. Wish it were more that 65% but glad to have at least that much and glad to have the info. Thanks very much.

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