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Good Question: Which Cars Are The Most American?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The buzz about the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl ad for Chyrsler has put the issue of buying an American car back in the forefront. But in an age when some American cars are assembled overseas, and some Japanese cars are assembled in the U.S., which cars are the most “American?”

And which car company employs the most Americans?

“It’s really, really messy,” said Carlos Torelli, an assistant professor and global branding expert at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.

“The days when things were manufactured in only one place, those are long time gone,” Torelli said.

“You have to look at a global economy,” said Doug Sprinthall, of Walser Auto Group. “Ford is probably the most American of all, but they assemble them all over the world,” he said.

“Toyota is the biggest retailer in the world — builds a ton of cars in the United States,” said Sprinthall.

Toyota builds cars in Kentucky, Indiana and Texas. Honda is in Ohio and Alabama.

“Japanese manufacturers are building cars in the U.S. and shipping them back to Japan,” said Sprinthall, because of the exchange rate.

“Mazda told us that 80 percent of their production is in Japan now. They’re going to try to ship half of it into this country and other countries in the North America,” he said.

Researchers looking into the concept of the “Made In America” automobile look at two different metrics: (1) the number of jobs created in factories for each vehicle sold and (2) the overall number of American jobs.

When you factor in American parts, jobs and sales, Cars.com reports that the most American-made car is the Toyota Camry.

“A Japanese company no one in the U.S. would believe is an American company,” Torelli said.

According to an ABC News analysis, for every 100 Camrys Toyota sells, 20 Americans get assembly line jobs.

The rest of the American-made list reads like this: Honda Accord, Chevy Malibu and Ford Explorer.

“Is it more important that the assembly line is in the U.S. or the corporate headquarters?” asked WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha. “That’s an excellent question,” Torelli said.

According to the Level Field Institute, a consortium of retirees from American automakers, at the end of 2009, American automakers had direct employment of 155,500 in 2009. Foreign automakers employed 100,000 Americans.

Of course, “Chrysler hasn’t been a U.S. company for many years,” noted Sprinthall. They were owned by Daimler, and now are part-owned by Italian automaker Fiat.

There is a big advantage to having a headquarters in the United States. General Motors has 77,000 American workers. Ford has 76,000. Chrysler ended 2011 with 52,000. By comparison, Toyota has close to 30,000. The Toyota has fewer than 100 employees in New York City.

“Really the know-how to make the car a better car is most likely to happen here if it’s a company headquartered in the U.S.,” Torelli said.

And that’s why he said Chrysler, despite its partial-ownership by an Italian car company, can authentically claim to be “Imported From Detroit.”

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