10 Most Union-Made Cars In America

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- You don't have to be a company based in the United States to drive one of the "most American," but you definitely need American labor.

Buying from a U.S.-based maker won't guarantee you're getting an "American" car; nor will buying a car with a high percentage of American-made parts in that car if the vehicle isn't assembled here. Though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration argues there's no such thing as a 100% "American" car, the United Auto Workers beg to differ.

More than 20 years ago, Congress passed the American Automobile Labeling Act requiring cars to have labels specifying their percentage of U.S./Canadian parts, the country of assembly and the country of origin for the engine and transmission. Even with this information, however, representatives of the nearly 400,000 active members and 600,000 retired members of the UAW say the only way to ensure you're getting a quality American automobile built to the highest standards at decent wages is to buy a car built using union labor.

Labor union proponents and detractors will continue their debate about this, but those who judge their "American-made" vehicle by who worked on it put a lot of value on that union label. We've gone through the UAW's list of union-made vehicles (the NHTSA has its own list) and found 10 standout models that are not only assembled here, but are prime examples of the best union shops have to offer:

Cadillac CTS
Assembled: Lansing, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 65%
MSRP: $38,905

The base model comes with a 270-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 engine, but can be bumped up to a 318-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 for a little more kick. General Motors' ( GM) symbol of American luxury also includes headlights that adapt to your speed and turning angle, rear backup camera, leather seating, wood trim and a pop-up eight-inch GPS screen that connects to voice control and a 10-speaker Bose stereo system. If you're willing to splurge for the CTS-V, your reward is a 556-horsepower, 6.2-liter V8 engine that takes you from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. This beast was a problem child for General Motors and the unions when sales dropped by more than 20,000 vehicles during the economic downturn, but CTS sales have since accelerated from 38,817 in 2009 to nearly 47,000 last year.

Chevrolet Sonic
Assembled: Orion Township, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 50% (27% in Korea)
MSRP: $14,785

The Sonic has a comfortable ride, smooth steering, 31 cubic feet of cargo space and combined mileage of nearly 30 miles per gallon. Those are just garnish for the car's "Buy American" base. They're far more concerned that the Sonic is assembled here with union labor, unlike the 20% American-made Ford ( F) Fiesta that gets 35% of its parts from Mexico and is assembled there. That's still a more American subcompact than the Toyota ( TM) Yaris or Honda ( HMC) Fit, both of which have 0% American parts and are made primarily in Japan.

Ford F-150
Assembled: Dearborn, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 75%
MSRP: $24,070

There's one big, star-spangled distinction separating the F-150 and Chevrolet's Silverado in the U.S. truck market. The F-150 may get 25% of its parts from elsewhere, but that's still better than the 34% of Silverado parts that come from Mexico. It's bad enough that only 67% of the Silverado is made in America, but when the light-duty version's made in Mexico, Chevy's practically giving away the patriot market to its foes at Ford.

Jeep Wrangler
Assembled: Toledo, Ohio
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 72% (15% Mexico)
MSRP: $22,295

When Fiat-owned Chrysler began cutting models after its bailout, there was no way the Wrangler was going anywhere. The closest relative to the Jeep that America's fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers drove during World War II, the four-wheel-drive Wrangler is one of the few remaining American icons that maintains the "American" portion of that label. Yes, 15% of its parts are made in Mexico, but it's been one of Jeep's steadiest performers and has seen demand increase from 82,044 vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2008 to 141,000 sold last year -- which is better than the Wrangler's 119,243 pre-recession sales in 2007.

Chevrolet Volt
Assembled: Detroit, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 45% (18% Japan)
MSRP: $31,645

Yes, unions make hybrids, and this isn't even the only one on the list. Granted, the Cadillac Escalade and Ford Escape and Focus hybrids each have more American-made parts than the Volt, but the Volt is the first plug-in hybrid made here. It's a little more luxurious than its competitors, which means features including a huge onboard hard drive, rear camera, touchscreen audio system and quiet cabin keep the price up and the sales numbers down. Since consumers caught on to this, however, sales jumped from a little less than 7,700 in 2011 to more than 41,000 last year. That $5,000 price cut shouldn't hurt, either.

Buick LaCrosse
Assembled: Kansas City, Kan.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 62%
MSRP: $33,135

The Buick brought your grandparents' luxuries into the 21st century, and the LaCrosse has been the poster child of its renaissance. It's packed with features including touchscreen and voice-controlled navigation, audio and bluetooth, heads-up instrument displays on the windshield, stability control, rearview camera, parking assist and rear-seat DVD players for the kids and grandkids. It turns out Americans who like Buicks love that stuff, as LaCrosse sales have climbed from just 28,000 in 2009 to nearly 57,000 last year after a huge tech overhaul in 2010.

Chrysler 200
Assembled: Sterling Heights, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 73%
MSRP: $25,255

The Chrysler Sebring was nobody's first choice for a convertible, unless you were as middle-manager Michael Scott's on NBC's The Office. The name change to 200 not only brought back a semblance of respect to the affordable convertible, but boosted sales. The 125,500 sold last year were not only a vast improvement over the 38,000 Sebrings sold in 2010, but the most the Sebring/200 line had sold since 2007. Yet another big update is coming soon, which isn't such a bad thing for one of Chrysler's new Italian ownership's most stable American cars.

Ram 1500
Assembled: Warren, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 67% (22% in Mexico)
MSRP: $23,400

The Ram comes in a distant third in the American pickup race, but it's making a strong play for a bigger spot in the truck market. With smaller payload capacity than the F-150 and Silverado, the Ram makes up the difference in power by offering a 5.7-liter, 390-horsepower hemi model and a 350-horsepower turbo diesel with 800-pound-feet of torque. Dodge has also been tinkering with the fuel source a bit by testing a plug-in hybrid version at government and military facilities across the country. Since Chrysler bulked up the Ram in 2009, sales have jumped from more than 177,000 to 293,000 last year. That's still nowhere close to the 450,000 sold in 2003, but it's using all of its torque to pull those numbers up.

Ford Mustang
Assembled: Flat Rock, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 70%
MSRP: $22,220

Even Mustangs have changed with the times. Muscle cars have been getting a lot more efficient of late, and Ford's Mustang manages to pry 305 horsepower out of its V6 engine while still managing 31 highway miles to the gallon. That would be great, if anyone was buying them. Mustang sales have taken a nosedive from more than 166,000 in 2006 to just 67,000 in 2009. Though the Mustang recovered a year later, sales still slid from 74,000 in 2010 to little more than 70,000 last year as the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger ate away its market share. It's gotten so bad that last year Ford started shifting V6 engines intended for Mustangs over to the plant making the better-selling F-150. A redesign is coming, but perhaps not soon enough.

Ford (F) C-Max Hybrid
Assembled: Wayne, Mich.
NHTSA percentage made in the U.S.: 40% (25% in Japan)
MSRP: $32,950

How do you compete with a competitor with as large of a head start as the Toyota Prius? Make your own Prius and try to catch up.

This car looks a whole lot like the Prius, is priced similarly to the competing Prius and does some some very Prius-type things. Its 47 miles per gallon are in Prius range, its plug-in version has 10 miles more range than its competitor and it has the union label that the Prius lacks. It also gets all those sweet Prius benefits such as state and federal refunds and solo carpool lane access. Just look past the name and you'll see a huge win for Ford and for U.S. competition in the plug-in/hybrid race.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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