The recent recession and the ongoing unemployment problem remind us to think about how we can support our economy through our purchases. While we don’t advocate protectionist policies, it’s natural to want our purchases to help our own economy. We will take a look at how to do that when purchasing a car and discuss some of the latest auto-industry news.

In July, cars.com announces the rankings of its “American-Made Index.” The index is a composite ranking of the most-American vehicles based on percentage (by cost) of their parts that are made domestically, where they are built and how popular they are with U.S. buyers. Only vehicles with 75% or higher domestic content can qualify. Last July’s index found that five of the 10 most-American vehicles were made by Japanese manufacturers. Toyota had four of the five, with the Camry – made in Kentucky and Indiana – ranking number one. The vehicle on the list with the highest domestic content, at 90%, was the reintroduced Ford Taurus. The best showing among the foreign manufacturers is a domestic content of 85% for the Indiana-built Toyota Sienna.

Do you need another reason to consider buying an American-made car? The quality of domestic-made vehicles is up. Seven of the 10 vehicle brands with the lowest problem rates come from Ford and GM. Also, there’s no question your purchase will help employ American workers, some of which are in the thermal-processing field. It’s easy to find automotive parts being processed at your friendly neighborhood commercial heat treater. Many industries support the domestic automotive industry, and by buying American you’re supporting a huge part of our economy.

Was it Made in America?
An editorial from May 2007 provides a key to information contained in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). This number is coded to provide information about where a vehicle was manufactured and how much domestic content it has. If you are looking for a car built in the U.S. with greater than 75% domestic content, look for a “1” as the first number in the VIN. To learn more, link to this editorial in our archives by using the Mobile Tag shown at the end of this column.

Aluminum in Cars and Recycling
One of the developments in today’s automobiles is the increasing amount of aluminum used. Aluminum is more expensive than steel, and it may not be usable in all applications due to strength considerations, but today’s cars contain almost 300 pounds of aluminum – averaging 8.6% of the total weight. The primary driving force for aluminum usage is the reduction of vehicle weight.

Aluminum is also very recyclable as is its steel counterpart. Recycled aluminum represents about 50% of automotive aluminum usage. For steel, recycled content is closer to 67%. Recycling of the car itself saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone.

Did you know that new car batteries contain up to 90% recycled material? Did you know that 60% of the world’s lead supply comes from recycled car batteries? Don’t forget to do your part when it is time to recycle a car or a component.

Mileage Standards on the Rise
As I was beginning to compile information for this editorial, new standards were announced that call for a 35.5-mpg average within six years – up nearly 10 mpg from today. This means that drivers will pay more for cars and trucks. It is estimated that the rules will cost consumers $434 extra per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 by 2016. The impact to the auto industry is expected to be $52 billion.

Competing with this increasing standard is the government’s interest in boosting the ethanol content of gasoline from 10% to 15%. I’ll reserve discussion of ethanol because it was covered in our May 2008 editorial. Check it out in our archives. Suffice to say, however, that increasing the ethanol content will result in a decrease in fuel economy because ethanol is less efficient than gasoline.

Another yet-to-be-passed goal of the current administration appears to be some type of carbon tax. It’s very likely this will be regulated through the EPA since few believe there should be any legislation controlling it, especially in light of recent revelations about fact distortions on the part of the global-warming advocates. Any type of regulation or cap-and-trade legislation will result in a potentially significant rise in our price at the pump. While admittedly not the U.S., one example of the effect of carbon control on an economy is Norway, where carbon taxes were imposed in 1991. In late 2008, the cost of a gallon of gasoline in Norway was nearly $10. I hear our prices are headed toward $4.00 this summer. Government regulation will only make it worse. IH