American Cars and American Standards

There is a difference between an American standard car and what someone internationally might see as an American car (or even an all-American car). Outside the US an American Car is one of the big names such as Corvette and Cadillac, though jeeps and pickups have a certain feel about them which links them to the US.


Is a car “American” because it’s made in America? It’s difficult to locate all the resources that make up a whole car, so it would be truly difficult to have a car that was entirely made within one country—even a country as big as the US. So, calling a car “American” made may be a piece of misdirection, although much of the steel and other vital components do come from America.

Many people consider a car American when the final assembly is done in America, but most car makers locate a plant within the country they’re going to sell to, so some “foreign cars” are assembled or at least modified within the US. All cars used to be made from materials from the US but today things aren’t as clear.

Some American cars are made in alliance with other countries. Some Chevrolets such as the Sonic have the backing of Korea and are being sold in Mexico and South America, as well as Eastern Asia. While the Spark (also partly a Korean car) is also made in Vietnam and Columbia.

Yes, they are American vehicles, there was definitely American money involved as well as American designers, but things are more complex than that.

Corporate Ownership

Another, common way to think of a car as American is when the car maker had its start in American. Now that’s getting warmer. Of all the huge car firms in the US, Buick is the oldest, being at 110 years old.

Other people consider a car American made when the corporate headquarters are in America, but … most car makers sell internationally so they have headquarters of some stripe several places on the globe.

Was there ever an American Car?

Take the Model T Ford for example, even with this vehicle it’s hard to calculate how truly American it is. It was designed by an American but apart from that it was manufactured globally. Ford had factories all around the world, including Walkerville in Canada and a region near Old Trafford in Manchester. Anywhere labour was inexpensive Ford put an assembly line or sourced parts.

1927 Aeroford

There were other forces changing the makeup of cars when business became worldwide, such as local laws and local tastes. Is it the American thinking that makes it an American car? For example, Americans seem to be in love with large vehicles that drink gas.

In 1920 Ford create the Aeroford, as a rebranding of the Model T, in London. The Aeroford was an attempt to merge the exotic idea of an American automobile with the UK tastes. Can the Aeroford be described as an American car? It’s hard to say, but it wouldn’t be the last car from the US was altered for a local market—either for local taste or to adapt to local rules.

The Future of The American Automobile

In the future, Tesla could well outrank names like Ford, but at this moment it pays to invest in the gas guzzler rather than the “green” car. It may not stay that way forever.

Does the consumer really want American vehicles, or do they prefer a global standard? Opinion is divided but having some kind of American prestige is a good selling point. On the other hand, the cost of an American factory, compared to say somewhere in Latin America makes a big difference.

It is not about national pride. On the practical side, you should want a car that will continue to have available parts. In purchasing a car made in the US you can be sure, at least with the big names, that any spare parts can be sourced economically and with some ease. Although sooner or later cars are discontinued leading to a lack of replacement parts.

So, What Should we Mean by American Car?

“American,” as a car description, is more likely to represent an iconic design, such as the sedan, rather than where things come from. We like big engines and bold design. We like to look off-road capable, even if we never go off road. We like variety in interior, so our car doesn’t look exactly like the next guys/gals. And we like leg/head room. Our cars should reflect the American values of freedom, independence and democracy—if you can create a design that does that, you’ve got a future in car biz.

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