Region residents might see the people who make Ford Explorers and Tauruses in the next pew at church, a few barstools over, or out shoveling their driveways.
Workers put together five different Ford and Lincoln vehicles at the sprawling Chicago Assembly Plant on the bank of the Calumet River in the far South Side Hegewisch neighborhood. They press and weld metal frames 15 minutes south at the Chicago Stamping Plant on Lincoln Highway in Chicago Heights.
They also produce the seats at Lear Corp. in Hammond, and seat components at Contract Services Group just down 165th Street.
The Explorer, Taurus, Lincoln MKS and two types of Police Interceptors all are assembled locally. But they are not as American made as people might think.
The Explorer placed fourth on the Cars.com American-Made Index in 2011, but failed to make the cut the past two years.
None of the locally made vehicles earned a place on the 2013 list, which rated the top 10 American-made cars. The automotive classified website, Cars.com, has released the index every year since 2006, basing it on sales, where the car is made and where the parts come from.
Cars made mostly with American-made parts do not necessarily make the top 10 list because fewer Americans are employed to make them if they do not post strong sales. In fact, the website says Japanese automakers build three of the five most American-made cars.
The Ford F-150 topped the most recent index, and the Toyota Camry, Dodge Avenger, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna rounded out the top five. The Camry and Sienna are both made in Indiana, while the Odyssey is built in Alabama.
Models that have a domestic parts content rating below 75 percent are disqualified. That rules out all the locally made vehicles.
Under the American Automobile Labeling Act, automakers must report what percentage of the car parts are made in the United States and Canada every year. The idea is to aid consumers who want to buy American.
About 65 percent of the 2014 Taurus was made in the United States or Canada, while about 60 percent of the parts in the Explorer were produced in those two North American countries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association data. The Explorer had an 85 percent domestic parts content rating in 2011, but since started importing more components.
Imported parts have become so prevalent in the automotive industry that not a single 2014 model year vehicle sold in the United States now can claim 85 percent of the parts were made in North America, according to the federal agency.
Only two vehicles – the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana – were made with 80 percent parts from the United States and Canada.
Only about 55 percent of the Chicago-made 2014 Lincoln MKS is domestic.
Nationally, the Taurus ranks 34th, the Explorer 44th and the Lincoln MKS 51st in percentage of North American-made parts.
Such rankings don't tell all
Such rankings, however, can be misleading in an era of increasing globalization, said Roger Simmermaker, an author and speaker who runs the website, www.howtobuyamerican.com.
Narrowly looking at where parts are made ignores whether the company is American-owned and where it is headquartered, said Simmermaker, who wrote "How Americans Can Buy American: The Power of Consumer Patriotism" and "My Company 'Tis of Thee: 50 Patriotic American Companies American Consumers Should Know About."
"If it's an American company, that means the engineering, designing, research and development and administration all take place here," he said. "Those are good jobs. It takes 20 hours to assemble a vehicle. It takes 20 months to design and test and research and develop a car."
Domestic automakers tend to pay more in taxes, because they have been around for a century and typically do not get the huge tax breaks foreign automakers do when they open new plants in the United States, said Simmermaker. Foreign car companies have built U.S. plants with imported steel, gotten financing from banks in their home countries and avoided paying duties on imported parts.
Simmermaker recommends a lesser known index: The Kogod Made in America Auto Index, compiled by the Kogod School of Business at American University in Washington, D.C. The Kogod index looks not just at where the vehicles, engines and transmissions are made, but also at where the research and development is done, and who collects the profits.
Kogod ranks the Taurus as the 11th most American-made car. The Explorer ranked 15th, and the MKS finished 18th.
"Where the company is based really completes the Buy American picture," Simmermaker said.