Just because your car was made in America doesn't mean the parts were.

Kogod's 2017 Made in America Auto Index from American University in Washington D.C. estimates that about 65 percent of the 17.5 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2016 were produced in the country, roughly the same as the previous year.

That figure is tied to how many jobs the auto industry, one of the largest manufacturing sectors in Indiana, supports in the United States.

"As such an important part of the U.S. economy, understanding the factors that influence the automobile industry is not just helpful—it is essential," study author Frank DuBois wrote. "A vehicle’s domestic manufacturing composition plays a key role in determining its overall impact on the American economy."

Two of the Calumet Region-made vehicles – the Taurus sedan and the Explorer Sport Utility Vehicle – ranked among the top vehicles with the most American-made parts, according to two studies.

The Made in America Auto Index ranked the Taurus as the sixth most American-made car with 61 percent of its content domestically produced, according to American Automobile Labeling Act data. The same study placed the Explorer 10th with 56 percent American-made parts.

The Cars.com 2017 American-Made Index deemed the Taurus the third most American-made car, after only the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Cherokee that are produced in Toledo, Ohio.

Ford makes both the Taurus and the Explorer at the Chicago Assembly Plant on the banks of the Calumet River in the Chicago's far South Side Hegewisch neighborhood, which borders Hammond. United Auto Workers-represented workers press and weld the metal frames down at the Chicago Stamping Plant on Lincoln Highway in Chicago Heights, about five miles west of Dyer. 

Register for more free articles.
Stay logged in to skip the surveys.

All the seats are made at Lear Corp.'s factory at 165th Street in Hammond, with subassemblies produced at the AmeriPlex at the Port business park in Portage. Volume has been so robust in recent years, with Ford repeatedly surpassing sales records, that Lear is building a new $30 million, 240,000-square-foot plant in Hammond, just south of the South Shore Line train station in East Chicago, where it will employ 875 workers.

"This is protecting the next generation of workers," Hammond Plant Manager Michael Segvich said at the recent groundbreaking for Lear's new plant. "It's protecting their future."

The seats are made in Hammond because the Chicago Assembly Plant operates on a just-in-time basis, where the seats are delivered to factory docks hours before they're installed at the assembly line.

"Ford indirectly was the catalyst for all this," said Matt Moroun, chairman of Crown Enterprises, which is leasing the property to Lear. "It will give this area a competitive advantage in the automotive industry for years to come."

Lear's investment in Hammond bucks an industry trend, with fewer and fewer parts produced in the United States.

Even the vehicles Kogod's 2017 Made in America Auto Index rates as most American-made – the Chevrolet Traverse, the Buick Enclave, and the GMC Arcadia – are only 71 percent American-made, according to American Automobile Labeling Act data.

The trend has been accelerating, even since DuBois noted in the inaugural Kogod study in 2013 that as many as 80 percent of the parts in a vehicle transmission are now made abroad. The Explorer had an 85 percent domestic parts content rating as recently as 2011, but is now down to 56 percent American-made content as more imported parts have rolled in, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association data.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.