How American Is Your Car Really?

Where your car is made and where the company that made it is headquartered are often two very different addresses.

What constitutes an American car is routinely up for debate, but the core of that battle comes down to minutiae. A car, truck, van or SUV/crossover is the sum of its parts, and those parts all come from somewhere. How "American" a car is depends largely on how many of those parts are made in the U.S.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration freely admits there's no such thing as a 100% American car and notes that one of its most American vehicles, the 60% U.S.-produced GM (GM) Chevrolet Spark takes 21% of its parts from South Korea and is assembled there as well. Then again, there are cars such as the BMW X3 that are assembled right here in the U.S. (South Carolina, specifically), but only get 10% of their parts from this country.

In fact, it's getting very difficult to use words like "American," "Japanese," "Korean" or "German" to describe an automobile. A car's heritage my lie in those countries, but companies the world over build their vehicles without boundaries. Here in the U.S. alone, we have Nissans and Volkwagens built in Tennessee, Subarus built in Indiana, Toyotas (TM) from Texas and Kentucky, Kias from Georgia and Hondas (HMC) , Hyundais and Mercedes-Benz from Alabama.

As a result, there are very few cars that are made where you think they are. Sure, you can still count on Jeep Wranglers from Toledo, Ohio, or Ford (F) F-150s from Dearborn, Mich., but can you look at the car in your driveway or at your curb and know for a fact where it was built? The folks at vehicle pricing and analysis site Kelley Blue Book do this for a living and often can't place where a car came from, never mind the parts in it. However, with their help, we found 20 vehicles whose company names don't make it entirely clear where they're assembled. You can guess, but prepare to be wrong more often than you're right:

Ferrari (RACE) visits the NYSE.

Mercedes-Benz CLA
Mercedes-Benz CLA

Made in: Hungary

Starting price: $32,050

Don't get too bent out of shape about this: the entry-level Benz the CLA supplanted, the C-Class, is made in Alabama. Meanwhile, the folks in Hungary dropping a 2-liter 4-cylinder into a Mercedes have given it a combined 32 miles per gallon.

That mileage makes it easily the most efficient of the entry-level vehicles in the luxury segment, but this sedan and its big, honkin' grill with the prominent Three-Pointed Star make up for the paltry 208 horsepower of this baby Benz. You can get a 375-horsepower all-wheel drive version with sports suspension and racing brakes, but we have no idea why you'd want to turn this vehicle into a German Camaro.

Just enjoy the touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth and HD radio, the mbrace smartphone app with five years of free features, and the the radar-based collision, attention and braking assistance. If you really want a Mercedes that's more about performance than monthly payments, work your way out of the entry level first.

Mini Convertible
Mini Convertible

Made in: The Netherlands

Starting price: $25,950

Where did you think it was made? Austin Powers's backyard in Oxford, England? Parent company BMW's facilities in Germany?

Please. Even some BMW models for the U.S. are made in South Carolina, so it's no surprise that Mini would contract work to VDL Nedcar once demand gets too great. Just enjoy the Dutch Mini's toys, including Mini Connected entertainment center featuring a 6.5-inch high-definition display, Apple-designed Bluetooth interface and app for smartphone and iTunes connectivity and optional GPS all make this remarkably zippy 134 horsepower subcompact a fun ride. The Sirius satellite radio, Pandora and HD radio just provide the soundtrack, but the most indulgent item built into the dash is a Rain Warner that sends a message to your smartphone when rain is coming and your car's top is down. Between that feature and the top that lets you open just a sunroof-sized portion if you desire, this Mini convertible is no econobox -- even if its 32.5 miles per gallon combined say otherwise.

Infiniti QX30
Infiniti QX30

Made in: England

Starting price: $29,950

This is quite a pedigree for the QX30. It's based on the Mercedes-Benz GLA and is produced at a plant in Sunderland.

Even for a crossover, this is really small. There's a scant 34 cubic feet of total cargo space with the seats down and a body style that nominally resembles an SUV. However, the leather steering wheel, heated power rearview mirror, 208-horsepower four-cylinder engine, combined 28.5 miles per gallon, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, backup camera and InFiniti InTouch infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen all seem like lovely features... for a sedan.

Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat 124 Spider

Made in: Japan

Starting price: $24,995

If you like the Miata but want something a little more European, this is the way to go. Fiat's initial version of the 124, sold from 1966 to 1985, was a cute little convertible. This newest incarnation, released last year, is basically an Italian-badged Miata.

Sure, it has different body panels than the Miata and a similar 160-horsepower engine. Yes, it has Fiat's suspension and turbocharged engine that should give it some advantages over its Japanese Cousin. However, it was co-developed with Mazda and built in a Mazda factory in Hiroshima, Japan.

That said, is that such a terrible thing? You people love the Miata. More Miatas are sold here than anywhere in the world, including Japan. Also, at a combined 30.5 miles per gallon, that's a really efficient Fiat.

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S

Made in: United States

Starting price: $77,500 with incentives

Elon Musk's Tesla (TSLA) is an American company, sure, but remember that this was at one time a joint venture with Toyota and is still manufactured at a plant that was once a Toyota/General Motors facility. Still the king of the electric fleet, though the competition is creeping up. The 376-horsepower motor, 5.2-second 0-60 and 155 mph top speed all add up to more performance than any other electric vehicle can manage. Meanwhile, while its 100 miles per gallon equivalent is not as efficient as the BMW i3's 124 mpge, that 270-mile range, supercharger and eight-year, unlimited mile warranty are unmatched. With charger-oriented navigation in place and self-driving "autopilot" making its way online, the Model S still makes a strong case for itself even as the cheaper Model 3 and more spacious Model X sport utility permeate the market.

Buick Regal
Buick Regal

Made in: Germany

Starting price: N/A

Surprise, Buick Regal lovers. If you enjoy plush mid-size sedan because you like simple luxuries and hate change, prepare to have your world turned upside down. The Regal's 2018 model is resurfacing with a five-door "sportback" option. That's right: the Regal is going hatch, because the kids really don't like grandpa's sedan, its utilitarian design and sad trunk space. It also offers a whole lot of options including navigation, a Bose eight-speaker sound system, wireless charging station, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated leather seats, fog lamps, sport brakes, a rear spoiler and sport suspension. But why Germany, you asked? Because this Regal is based on an Opel vehicle made there and, despite General Motors recently selling Opel to a French automaker, there's still some Euopean synergy to take advantage of.

Ford Transit Connect
Ford Transit Connect

Made in: Spain

Starting price: $23,625

If the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter taught the U.S. market anything, it's that it likes the tall, European vans better than the rounded boxes that shuttled them to scout camps or their grandparents to church. The first-generation Transit Connect helped U.S. drivers love the smaller cargo van, even if it was made in Turkey. This version, however, is made at Ford's plant in Valencia, but is still a cargo van with seats in it. Frills like a leather steering wheel, "smoker's package," dimming rearview mirror, SYNC, rearview camera, touchscreen controls, voice communication, sliding fold-flat third-row seat and automatic climate control are extra, though a rear-seat heater and air conditioner comes standard. This is not a minivan or even a particularly comfortable vehicle, but the 29.5 inches of legroom in the third row and 31 in the second are huge, as is the 6.5 inches of headroom. The combined 104.2 cubic feet of cargo space with all rows removed, however, is smaller than some minivans. If you'd never own one, you may want to consider it as a temporary holiday rental. We know there are fleets of them out there somewhere.

Mercedes-Benz Metris
Mercedes-Benz Metris

Made in: Spain

Starting price: $25,995

Falling somewhere between small and full-size vans, the Metris caters to fleets and contractors who need more space than a small van provides but don't want the expense of a larger van. There are cargo, worker and passenger models, but you're looking at the same utility in all of them. You're also looking at a van built in Vitoria by a German automaker for export to the United States. Oh, the wonders of the global economy.

Buick Cascada
Buick Cascada

Made in: Poland

Starting price: $33,065

General Motors really didn't like the look of the Buicks it was producing in the U.S., so this is the second vehicle the brand has handed to Opel. Not only is this 23.5 mpg beast made in Poland, but its engine is produced in Hungary, while its six-speed automatic transmission is made in Mexico.

So what does that make it? A luxury convertible with mid-range power. This 1.6-liter 200-horsepower four-seater boasts about "turbocharged performance," but should maybe focus on the insulated soft top that opens in 17 seconds at up to 31 miles per hour. Features like the Buick IntelliLink with a 7-inch-diagonal color touch screen -- featuring text alerts and Siri Eyes Free for Apple phones with an iOS 6 or newer operating system -- OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot (includes three-month/3GB data trial), available navigation, available premium audio, rear parking assist, remote starter, leather seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone climate control and front and rear power outlets are the big selling points here. Especially considering that trunk space shrinks from 13.4 cubic feet to 9.8 with the top down.

Mitsubishi Mirage
Mitsubishi Mirage

Made in: Thailand

Starting price: $13,395

Mitsubishi isn't making vehicles in the U.S. anymore, but that doesn't mean the vehicles it sells here are coming from Japan. This hatch and the Mirage G4 sedan are both produced in Thailand, but that isn't exactly what buyers tend to focus on.

There's mo hybrid engine, no plug and no battery, but this car still gets 40.5 miles per gallon combined. That said, we'll stress that this 3-cylinder, 78-horsepower vehicle is not big by any measure. About 12 feet long and little more than five feet wide, the Mirage doesn't even provide the illusion of space. However, its 17 cubic feet of trunk space is larger than the Jetta's and increases to 47 cubic feet with the hatchback's seats down. Throw in a pushbutton starter, touchscreen audio, Apple Play/Android Auto, Bluetooth, rearview camera, available navigation system and automatic climate control and you're getting a whole lot in this little package.

Chevrolet SS
Chevrolet SS

Made in: Australia

Starting price: $46,625

As it turned out, people didn't want a sedan with a Corvette V8 engine and 415 horsepower. The gearheads say it's because General Motors refused to put a manual transmission in it. That option eventually showed up, but was so rare and costly that none of the car geeks could get their hands on it. Not that it mattered: This isn't the era of the Pontiac G8 anymore. There's very little demand for a vehicle of this kind of power in this format that isn't a luxury car. A muscular rear-drive sedan based on the Australian Holden was never going to get a whole lot of love in a market polarized between sport utility vehicles and hybrid/electric vehicles. The SS is a relic, and if you're willing to wait for an Aussie-made muscle sedan with a manual transmission, it just might be worth something to somebody... someday.

Toyota Yaris
Toyota Yaris

Made in: France

Starting price: $15,250

Toyota can put all the Guns 'n' Roses songs in its commercials that it likes, but there's nothing remotely American about this vehicle -- or Japanese, for that matter. Coming from a French plant near the Belgian border, the Yaris caters to European sensibilities and U.S. buyers who love the Euro penchant for small, efficient vehicles. The Yaris is no econobox, either. It comes with Bluetooth and a 7-inch touchscreen standard and doesn't charge extra Toyota Sense C safety features including low-speed pre-collision system, stability control, traction control, braking assistance or break override system. It may look like an econobox from the outside, but you're getting a lot more from it than you will from many vehicles in its class.

Mercedes-Benz G500
Mercedes-Benz G500

Made in: Austria

Starting price: $122,400

The Mercedes-Benz G-Class doesn't look anything like the rest of the Mercedes lineup, and with good reason. It's built for emergency and military work... and for shuttling the occasional celebrity or politician. It isn't supposed to look luxurious, it's supposed to be tough. As a result, it's manufactured at a plant in Graz, Austria, that can focus on those rough edges without being softened up by Mercedes' cushier models.

No, it isn't the most populist of SUVs, nor the most fuel-efficient at a paltry 13.5 miles per gallon, but it's out there. It's a member of a luxury SUV class that has watched sales soar 26% this year, and it doesn't apologize for being terrible at the pump.

If you're buying a G550, chances are you're paying more attention to the 5.5-liter V8 engine, the 382 horsepower, the 7,000-pound towing capacity, the off-road features, the driver-assisting technology, the Nappa leather seats, the privacy glass and the touchscreen entertainment system. The cost of gas is clearly someone else's concern and a small line item among your annual expenditures.

Chevrolet Spark
Chevrolet Spark

Made in: South Korea

Starting price: $13,050

The Chevrolet Spark started its life as a Daewoo vehicle and is still produced in South Korea. When fuel prices spiked a few years back, General Motors suddenly had interest in a car with 34 miles per gallon combined and an electric vehicle option. However, it sticks around because it has 23.4 cubic feet of storage with the rear seats down, a 7-inch diagonal high-resolution color touch-screen, Bluetooth wireless, Apple Siri Eyes Free texting and a standard three years of OnStar remote link access that lets owners check battery level, efficiency statistics and more on their smartphones. Oh, and it has mobile 4G Wi-Fi.

Spark users also get to use their smartphone as a key and remote starter and, once inside, can drive secure in the knowledge that they're surrounded by no fewer than ten airbags. The Spark needed an overhaul last year to make it more comfortable, but it now looks as if it's sticking around a while.

Fiat 500L
Fiat 500L

Made in: Serbia

Starting price: $20,995

We'll admit, the 75.5 cubic feet of passenger space inside the standard Fiat (FCAU) 500 is a bit tight. The five-door 500L, meanwhile, has a slightly more roomy 123 cubic feet of space to go with its peppy 160-horsepower engine, seven airbags, voice command with Bluetooth, flip and fold rear seats and 33 miles per gallon on the highway. It's a Fiat with more room, if less mileage, which makes it a whole lot easier to swipe at your tablet without elbowing someone in the head.

When it came time to make this larger 500, however, the folks in Italy decided to call in a favor from Serbia. The plant in Kragujevac where the 500L is manufactured not only has been making cars since the 1950s, but once made one of the most loathed cars ever imported to these shores: The Yugo.

Honda Civic hatchback and Type R
Honda Civic hatchback and Type R

Made in: England

Starting price: $19,700

The Civic routinely ranks among the Top 10 cars in the country in sales. Its mileage (36.5 miles per gallon combined, including 42 on the highway) and lovely little facelift for 2016 that includes rain-sensing wipers, a capless fuel tank, heated seats and steering wheel controls have also helped its cause stateside.

It's a bit snug for more than two, but the Civic's mileage will make it easy to grow into once gas prices rise again. It seats five with a surprising amount of space left over, is coated in airbags and has a new 7-inch touchscreen display that shows fuel efficiency, music info and photos -- as well as Apple Play and Android Auto capability. The utilitarian small sedan also tends to hold up well over the years, making it a gem for used car buyers who aren't just waiting for a larger, far less efficient vehicle to get less expensive.

The hatchback is just a sleeker version of that vehicle, but the Type R, long a stranger to the U.S., is a more rare breed. Starting at $34,000, it's a tuner's dream: A four-cylinder, 2.0 liter turbo with 306 horsepower at 7,000 RPM. With a six-speed transition, race-ready suspension and performance brakes, it's just a little too hot to be made with the rest of the Civics here in the states. Instead, it hops a ride with the hatchbacks from Swindon.

Buick Envision
Buick Envision

Made in: China

Starting price: $34,065

Honestly, we're kind of surprised that more of the Buicks on this list didn't come from China. That country loves a Buick and has an interest in that brand that eclipses that of the states. In China, a Buick isn't necessarily a grandparent's car: it's a quiet, luxurious ride that's a symbol of success. It's unsurprising, then, that the missing link between the small Buick Encore crossover and the large Enclave came out of China. As for those perks that are so beloved there, the Envision's list of features includes available 4G LTE Wi-Fi, available dual climate control, power moon roof, rain sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, a rearview camera, split-folding rear seats, OnStar telematics and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, a USB/iPod interface, an auxiliary audio jack and Buick's IntelliLink control interface with a 7-inch touchscreen and integrated smartphone apps.

Volvo S60 Inscription
Volvo S60 Inscription

Made in: China

Starting price: $36,800

Just about every other version of this car is made in either Sweden or Belgium, but the Chinese market demanded a longer wheelbase. Unsurprisingly, Volvo was happy to let them build it in house.

The 240 horsepower, the leather seats, the walnut inlays, the safety features, the sunroof, the automatic climate control, the daytime running lights, the navigation, the sound system... all secondary. What the Chinese market wanted more than anything was 36.9 inches -- more than a yard -- of legroom. That's actually less than you'll find in a Toyota Camry (38 inches), but it's the most legroom in the S60's class.

Jeep Renegade
Jeep Renegade

Made in: Italy

Starting price: $17,995

It's basically the Jeep version of the Fiat 500X, so it should surprise no one that Fiat Chrysler just builds them both in the same Italian plant. No, it isn't built at Jeep's sacred plant in Toledo, Ohio, but at least it looks like the Jeep Patriot that Fiat killed off. However, it has better mileage than that dead car walking and is a far more sturdy off-road vehicle than the Patriot could dream to be.

But it's what Jeep needs: a small SUV that can corner like the Nissan Juke and Mini Countryman, but be as useful as the Subaru Crosstrek and Kia Sportage. It's tiny, but it's agile and actually gets more than 30 miles per gallon on the highway as a 4x4 -- which is unheard of in the U.S.

Audi Q7
Audi Q7

Made in: Slovakia

Starting price: $49,000

Just a reminder that Audi is a Volkswagen holding, and Volkswagen just happens to have a nice little plant in Bratislava that helped produce this full-size crossover SUV -- Audi's only SUV when it was first released here in 2009. Packing a 2-liter, 252-horsepower, 4-cylinder turbo engine and stocked with a whole lot of features including a Bang & Olufsen sound system, its own tablet, 4G mobile internet and an entire suite of safety features, the Q7 looks and rides like a German Audi. That it's built at a Slovakian address is of little consequence.

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This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.

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