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What Really Makes A Truck American? - Bench Wheeling

Posted in Features on September 25, 2013
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Contributors: Harry Wagner
Photographers: Harry Wagner

When searching for a new truck, Harry naturally gravitated towards Toyotas, since that is what he wheels and knows best. Fred urged Harry to consider buying ’Merican though, which got them to thinking about what exactly defines an “American truck” in this day and age. Like choosing belts and suspenders or creamy and chunky peanut butter, it wasn’t long before the duo was rolling up their sleeves and debating which is best and how to define what makes a truck American.

My Tundra Is More American Than Your Ram!

At the risk of offending our more affluent readers, I must confess I feel no stronger bond with a billionaire from America than one from Japan or Germany. What is more important to me is the average guy I can relate to, the one who is working all week to support his family and work on his rig with whatever is left over. One job in the auto industry supports nine other jobs in that community, and there are a lot more factory line workers out there than CEOs. While I will try to keep my argument focused more on 4x4s than cars, it is relevant to the conversation to note that ranked the Camry the most American car on the market. So how does the Tundra stack up against the Big Three?

By percentage of parts, the Ford F-150 is 75 percent American while the Toyota Tundra is…75 percent American! They both beat the Chevy Silverado, which only has 65 percent American-made parts. The Silverado is manufactured in Flint, Michigan, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, as well as by our neighbors to the north in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada (I suppose our money could go to worse places than paying for hockey sticks and maple syrup). GM SUVs like the Tahoe and Avalanche are manufactured in Arlington, Texas, as well as Silao, Mexico.

toyota tundra

The Ford F-150 is still produced in Dearborn, Michigan, and the Super Duty is made in Louisville, Kentucky. Those two facilities employ over 13,000 people, so props to Ford for that. In 2009 Dodge closed its Fenton, Missouri, plant and shifted production of heavy-duty Ram trucks south to Saltillo, Mexico. At least the Ram 1500 is still made in Warren, Michigan, by 25,00 American employees.

Now what about those so-called Japanese trucks? The Toyota Tundra and Tacoma are manufactured in San Antonio, Texas, and while Texans may try to convince you that they are their own country the rest of us still consider them part of America. Toyota’s San Antonio facility employees 2,300 people directly and thousands more as suppliers and contractors—more employees than Dodge or Chevy facilities but a far cry from Ford. Looking to up the ante even further, the new ’14 Tundra was even designed in the USA specifically for this market.

Nissan has plants in Smyrna and Decherd, Tennessee, and Canton, Mississippi. The Xterra, Frontier, and Pathfinder are made in Smyrna by 6,700 hardworking Americans. The Titan and Armada are made in Canton, where 3,300 people are employed directly along with another 1,500 contractors. Nissan also has a design center in San Diego, California, where the award-winning Xterra and Frontier were conceived. Sounds pretty American to me! Now if only Toyota or Nissan offered a diesel.

American Means the Big Three!

I am inclined to agree that in the current economic and manufacturing world it is pretty hard to find anything that is truly 100 percent made in the USA. (I say “made in the USA” because I could always claim my Mexican-built Ram 3500 is made in America—North America). At the same time, I like to support our Big Three automakers, even the ones people hate to support because they don’t like their government loans, their current management, or the styling of their new grille.

American clearly means the Big Three: Chevy, Ford, and Chrysler…er, Dodge…er, Ram. They are designed in America, the profits (usually) come back to America, and for the most part they are built in America. But American is less clear when those other brands have headquarters overseas yet assembly plants here. It gets really blurry when the assembly is outsourced to lower the cost to consumers. If you consider that anyone the world over can buy stocks in these automakers and that the profit can then be sent to who-knows-where, the idea of “American made” becomes a giant muddy melting pot of confusion.

So why do I like to buy American stuff (made in the USA) versus “imports”? Because I like to support the home team, even when they are not winning. Let me tell you a story …

dodge ram 3500

I grew up in Pennsylvania. My granddad, dad, and brothers attended Penn State University. By contrast, my girlfriend is from Alabama. In the past few years Penn State’s football team has had, shall I say, a less than perfect image. Alabama football, on the other hand, has been doing quite well. Despite these events I’m still a Penn State fan. I never went there, I know they are in the gutter in many people’s view, and my girlfriend will happily remind me how great the ’Bama Tide are rolling. Truth be told, I could tell you more about how to build a Dana 60 than how to execute a zone defense, but I still support my home team (even when that team is made up of players from all over the country).

What does this diatribe about my family’s less than perfect alma mater have to do with trucks being made in the U.S. by American companies versus made in the U.S. and sold by foreign-run companies? Even when the home team is struggling I’m still proud to be an American, and I like to support those long-standing U.S. companies. Every company has less than stellar situations or products over the years. Ford had Firestones supposedly flipping over, Toyota supposedly had runaway Priuses, Suzukis and Jeeps would supposedly roll over on any curvy road, and Chevy and Ram had government handouts. But I’m not jumping ship that easily.

You may know I own a Toyota or two, though mine are older used versions made overseas that were bought secondhand (or third or fourth). And my Toyotas have been modified with Dana axles, and I love GM engines. I’m also a fan of Ram styling and Jeep bodies (especially when stuffed with parts from all those other brands).

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