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Buying "American" Could Mean Buying Foreign

In a new survey conducted by Harris Interactive, 75 percent of those surveyed considered a product American if it was manufactured in the U.S. In the same survey released last week, 15 percent of those surveyed also named Ford as the most American company.

"What many consumers don't know is that companies very traditionally seen as American, from GE to John Deere to Levi Strauss, outsource varying portions of their operations overseas, so it takes a lot of attention and research to determine if you're buying American and what that specifically means to you," said Mike de Vere, president of the Harris Poll. "Even the big three automakers - Ford, General Motors and Chrysler - two of whom were thought of as the most American brands in our findings, increasingly have cars in which parts are produced abroad, while Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda have upped U.S. production."

Although Ford is considered the most American company by survey respondents, the annual American-Made Index by Cars.com only has one Ford vehicle listed (the Ford F-150). Cars.com says the “American-Made Index recognizes cars that are built here, have a high percentage of domestic parts and are bought in large numbers by American consumers.” The index, made up of 10 vehicles, has five Japanese-branded models that some consumers may automatically disqualify because they are made by a foreign car company. In reality, the Japanese Toyota Camry has ranked number one in the index over the last four years. The Camry is assembled in Kentucky and Indiana and is built with more U.S. parts than any other vehicle based on the index criteria.

Besides the Toyota Camry, the Sienna and Tundra made the list for 2012. Tying Toyota as the most represented automaker was General Motors, with the Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia and Buick Enclave. Representing Honda was the Accord and Pilot, and one vehicle from Chrysler Group, the Jeep Liberty, made the list.

AOL Autos says, “‘Buy American,’ is an important criteria for many consumers as they think about supporting local jobs, buying local and helping the U.S. economy. But because large companies like automakers operate globally, defining ‘American’ and ‘local’ is actually quite different.”

Cars.com says that the automotive industry is becoming more global, as evidenced by the top two vehicles on its list. The Toyota Camry receives some drivetrains from Canada, and the V8 installed in the F-150 currently comes from Canada as well. Sometimes having parts come together from all around the globe helps the automaker’s bottom line. Ford, for example, earned a profit partly by instilling a global One Ford strategy that meant getting rid of some its domestic components, according to Cars.com.

With that criterion in mind, might it be OK to consider a Toyota Camry or Honda Accord for your next vehicle purchase if you’re looking to “buy American”? AOL Autos says trying to decipher which vehicles are more American (a foreign vehicle with more U.S.-made parts or a U.S. company that makes a vehicle with more foreign parts), may be too much of a headache for most consumers.

For consumers whose main focus is buying an American-made car, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website has a report of the amount of U.S./Canadian parts, by percentage, installed in each vehicle that is sold in the U.S.

The Harris Interactive study was based on surveys of 2,176 U.S. adults.

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