Great Cars Made in America: U.S. Companies

Last Updated Nov 5, 2010 12:07 PM EDT

This is the first of two posts on Cars Made in America. Read the related post on Cars Made in America: Foreign Brands.
While setting off fireworks and waving flags are fine ways to celebrate the Fourth of July, buying an American-made car may be even more patriotic.

Keeping or creating well-paid automotive jobs can help your fellow citizens and the U.S. economy. And for the first time, domestic brands averaged a slightly higher quality rating than foreign brands, albeit slightly, in the J.D. Power initial quality study. (See J.D. Power Picks: Great Deals on the Best-Made Cars.) The newest U.S. car maker: fledgling Tesla Motors, of Fremont, Calif. which makes all-electric sports cars and is planning an initial public offering.(See Tesla Motors IPO: Don't Expect a Healthy Jolt to Your Portfolio.)

It's sometimes difficult to be sure what "Made in America" means these days, however, since most vehicles assembled here have at least some parts made elsewhere. But has just determined the most American vehicles, based on the percentage of parts made domestically and where they are assembled. Five of the top 10 are from Detroit's Big Three: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. We'll take a closer look at those today. (The other five are from Japanese companies Toyota and Honda but manufactured in the U.S. of A; MoneyWatch will discuss those in our next post.)

Here's a closer look at the five domestic models in the order of their finish on the most-American list--Two Fords, a Chevy, a Dodge and a Chrysler Jeep:

Ford Escape-One of the earliest entries in the compact SUV class, Escape is assembled in Kansas City, Kan. Reviewers like its smooth, six-speed automatic transmission, comfortable seating and generous cargo space. Its mileage ratings of 22 mpg in city driving, 28 highway are among the best in this class. As the 2010 model year comes to a close, you can buy an Escape base model for about $18,600, according to auto price site That's $2,560 below the dealer invoice price, including a $2,000 rebate.

Ford Focus-The subcompact Focus is assembled in Wayne, Mich. A new version of the Focus, designed in Europe, is due next year as a 2012 model. (See Fuel-Efficient American Cars Star at New York Auto Show.) But the current model offers attractive gas mileage (24 mpg city, 35 highway). Reviewers like its comfortable front seats and exterior design. And, like most Fords, the Escape offers the optional SYNC system that lets you give voice commands to play music or make phone calls. (See Full Wi-Fi Coming in Ford Cars.) The base-model Focus is selling for an average of just $14,376--$2,640 below list price and $1,975 below dealer invoice-including a $2,000 rebate

Chevrolet Malibu-Like the Ford Escape, Chevy puts together the mid-size Malibu in Kansas City, Kan. GM has redesigned the Malibu into a worthy competitor for the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. Reviewers like its sleek looks and, especially, its comfortable and stylish interior. Malibu's mileage ratings of 22 mpg city, 30 highway stack up well in its class. The LT version is selling at an average of $19,800, according to TrueCar. That's $3,540 below list price and $2,835 below dealer invoice-including a $3,000 rebate.

Dodge Ram 1500-Chrysler's Dodge Ram is assembled in Warren, Mich. in its quad cab and crew cab versions (the single cab is assembled in Mexico). With its combination of macho looks and comfortable, car-like ride Ram is a strong pickup contender. Reviewers like its option for extra lockable storage containers and its strong hauling and towing capacity. Its mileage rating of 14 mpg in the city, 20 highway is respectable for a V-8 pickup. The Ram crew cab V-8 is selling for an average of $29,376--$4,625 below list price and $2,350 below dealer invoice-including a $2,500 rebate.

Jeep Wrangler -Chrysler's Jeep Wrangler is assembled in Toledo, Ohio. Evolved from the World War II army vehicle, the Wrangler is still a classic-especially if off-roading over rocks and through mud is your idea of fun. Reviewers -even those who love its off-road chops-caution that the Jeep Wrangler is not a comfortable fit for daily commuting. You can get the Sport model with its 3.8-liter V-6 engine (15 mpg city, 19 highway) for an average selling price of $21,006. That's a smaller discount than other cars on this list--$910 below list and $610 below dealer invoice. No rebate is offered, but 0% financing is available for buyers with a strong credit rating.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.