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All-American Car Is Extinct

October 25, 1990|RALPH VARTABEDIAN

Question: Being in the market for a new car or perhaps a light truck, I wish to leave my money in America. I would appreciate information on which cars or trucks are produced and assembled in the United States right down to the last bolt.--C.F.W.

Answer: If you are literal in your desire to have a car produced in America right down to the last bolt, your only option might be a Model T. All American car makers import some parts of all of their cars and all of the parts of some of their cars.

Although American car manufacturers talk a good game about buying domestic cars in their advertising, they all have close ties to foreign suppliers. Although Japan is the biggest exporter of cars to the United States, it appears that Europe is the biggest supplier of parts to U.S. producers.

General Motors imports its Geo line and it co-produces cars with Toyota. Ford, meanwhile, turned over its design for the Probe to Mazda, which produces the car outside Detroit. And Chrysler imports its Colt line from Japan, but at the same time owns an Italian producer of sports cars.

Still, it is possible to buy cars that are substantially American. When GM recently launched its new Saturn line of cars, it set a goal to maximize domestic content. A Saturn spokeswoman said that 95% of the content of the Saturn line is domestic and less than a half a percentage of Saturn content comes from Japan. Ford, meanwhile, claims that its cars contain on average 85% to 90% U.S. content.

"I don't think there is anything that is 100% American," a Ford spokesman said.

But a word of caution is needed about such domestic content claims. When GM or other American manufacturers say domestic, what they mean is North American. So, when Ford claims that 85% to 90% of the content of its cars are produced domestically, it is including Canada and Mexico.

Ford, for example, operates an assembly plant for Escorts in Hermosillo, Mexico, and the company considers those cars domestically produced. Many Americans and many Mexicans, not to mention geography teachers anywhere in the world, would probably disagree with Ford. At the same time, Mexico is one of the few foreign markets for U.S. cars and an important American trading partner.

A Ford spokesman said the Thunderbird and Cougar have 95% North American content, the highest of any of Ford's cars.

Chrysler said its domestic content is more than 91%, again including production in Mexico and Canada, but excluding the cars Chrysler imports from Japan, which include the Summit and Colt. Chrysler's Mexican and Canadian production includes fully assembled cars, such as the Le Baron. In some cars, Chrysler uses Mitsubishi engines.

Q: I recently purchased a used car that does not contain rear shoulder belts. I would like to know if the car can be fitted with shoulder belts for my kids.--T.B.

A: Auto makers have shoulder safety belt retrofit kits available for most older cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A recent agency survey found that the cost for parts and labor to install the shoulder harness kits averaged $152.

The agency estimates that a number of deaths nationally could be prevented if all older cars were retrofitted, even if seat belt usage remained at its current level.

The use of a shoulder belt is safer than a seat belt alone, though a seat belt provides a substantial margin of safety all by itself. Lap belts reduce the risk of death in crashes by about 32%, while shoulder and lap belts reduce the risk of fatal injury by 41%.

You can get additional information about retrofit kits for specific models from the agency by calling (800) 424-9393. The hot line also can provide information about safety recalls for specific model cars.

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