Americans have a love affair with automobiles. Not only are cars our primary transportation device—depending on the numbers you look at, about 90 percent of Americans over the age of 18 has a driver’s license—but there is something about the roar of an engine that sets our hearts aflutter.
It would be tempting to look at industry icons like Ferrari and Lamborghini, which are produced outside the US, and think that the US automotive industry doesn’t provide anything interesting. But America has its own vibrant car production culture.
Whether you’re planning a bucket list to visit iconic car factories in the US, or are just interested in this interesting history, here are the ten production facilities to be aware of.
#10: Toyota in Kentucky
Nestled in Georgetown is the largest Toyota factory outside of Japan. Their repertoire won’t raise any eyebrows: the Camry is their big-ticket item. However, with Toyota having a legitimate claim to being the world’s largest automotive corporation (beating out GM in 2012 sales), their major US facility deserves mention. In addition to the Camry they also produce the Avalon and Venza.
Even though the Camry isn’t a big muscle car, it is the biggest selling car in America, making Toyota’s flagship automobile a cultural icon.
#9: Mercedes-Benz USA in Alabama
Unless you live in Vance, AL, you’ve probably never heard of the sleepy town that hosts Mercedes-Benz’s only US manufacturing plant. Their production includes the M-Class, R-Class, and GL-Class—nondescript titles for SUVs and crossover vehicles.
Of course, with a brand as universally revered as Mercedes-Benz you don’t need fancy car names to sell the importance of the facility.
#8: Hyundai in Alabama
Alabama gets all the good toys, don’t they? Hyundai expanded out of South Korea with their plant in Montgomery. While they’ve only been there since 2002, their success made Hyundai open a Kia plant 85 miles away, allowing the two plants to figure out effective ways of juggling tasks for better efficiency.
So while the Montgomery plant produces the Sonata and Elantra, they’ve taken on manufacturing KIA engines. Conversely, the KIA plant now produces the Hyundai Santa Fe.
#7: Mitsubishi in Illinois
You can find Normal, the town in which Mitsubishi has its US production facility, amid the cornfields that stretch from the flatlands of the Midwest. Perhaps it is fitting that such an otherwise normal town is where the assembly for such firecracker vehicles as the Eclipse and Eclipse Spyder takes place. Though in the past they’ve produce the Eagle Talon coupe and Mirage sedan.
#6: Ford in Michigan
Ford has multiple facilities in Michigan, but it is at Flat Rock that they produce one of their most iconic vehicles: the Mustang. However, it’s only been recently that Ford took full control of the plant. Previously it had been the apex of a joint venture between Ford and Mazda; the plant had been producing cars like the Mazda 6 and MX-6 and the Ford Probe.
Since Ford reacquired controlling interest in the factory, the location focuses on the Mustang and the Fusion.
#5: Shelby in Nevada
Las Vegas is frenetic: casinos, hotels, and bad memories staying in Vegas. To the car enthusiast, however, Shelby is a treat. Their standout vehicle is the Cobra, a sexy car that has been featured in a number of films, including being the highlight of Gone in Sixty Seconds. Their current offerings are pure muscle: the Supersnake, GT350, Shelby 1000, and the GTS.
#4: BMW in South Carolina
Fondly termed as “Bimmers” among the BMW faithful, few cars have captured the every day respect that the BMW brand commands. Their US production facility, in Spartanburg, has become the only location that builds the X3 and X6 lines.
The BMW campus is large enough that they deemed it necessary to have and maintain their own fire and police departments.
#3: Local Motors in Arizona
You can be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Local Motors. After all, there are no dealerships with lots of their cars. In fact, they only have one car design right now, the Rally Fighter. However, what makes Local Motors notable is how the Rally Fighter—and presumably any future car designs—came to be.
The car went through open source developing. Which essentially means that thousands of car fans designed not just the car, but also every major system. And rather than build a bunch of cars and sell them, you get to help manufacture the actual car you’re buying. It’s a brash new way of envisioning car creation.
#2: Ford in Michigan (Again)
Thanks to Detroit, Michigan has become a hub for automobile assembly. Many major car manufacturers have multiple Michigan-based plants. Ford’s Dearborn-based plant, located on the Rouge River, is as much a piece of history as it is a factory. Built between 1917 and 1928, the 1.5 mile x 1 mile factory aimed to have a streamlined production where raw materials were mined on-site, the cars were built, and then dispersed to the car-buying public.
The F-150 pickup trucks are the factory’s only produced vehicle now, but in the past it’s been the site for the Mustang, Thunderbird, and the Model A, among many others. It was even used to build anti-submarine boats used in World War I.
#1: General Motors in Bowling Green, KY
The General Motors plant in Bowling Green makes one car—and it may just be most American car ever: the Chevrolet Corvette. The Corvette is an icon; when a Corvette passes you on the highway, you stare. Every kid wants one.
The Corvette is one of the rare cars that looks just as home on the highway as it does on a racetrack—it has been used as the pace car for many races, including twelve stints with the Indianapolis 500.
Oh, and the Bowling Green Assembly Plant gives tours. Actually, many of these factories allow tours, making them excellent family vacation stopping points.
License: Image author owned
License: Image author owned
Jacob Gehman writes crafty blog posts like this for manufacturing factory equipment websites like Messer Cutting Systems. Hopefully after reading this one you’ll be interesting in reading some more!