Made in America: Japanese Automakers Export Record Number of Vehicles from US

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by Grace Ruch Clegg

On March 20, 2014, a silver Honda Accord rolled off the assembly line in Marysville, Ohio, where the model has been manufactured since 1982; the first Japanese auto plant in the United States. This particular vehicle had the special distinction of being both the 10 millionth US-built Accord, but also the 20 millionth Made-in-America Honda. This milestone came shortly after the company’s announcement that it now exports more Hondas and Acuras from the US than it imports from Japan, the first Japanese automaker to do so.

The US is the largest export market for Japanese cars and trucks, however over the past three decades Japanese auto companies have invested heavily in manufacturing, design, and parts production throughout the US. Over time, the majority of Japan-branded vehicles on American roads were produced in the United States from locally sourced parts, as opposed to being imported from Japan. According to the 2013 report of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), which represents Japan’s major automakers worldwide, 70% of all Japanese cars and trucks sold in the US in 2012 were made at US plants. In that year, these Japanese-owned “transplants” produced 3.3 million vehicles, over a third total US auto production.

However, it is no longer only American consumers who are purchasing these vehicles. In 2012 an unprecedented 336,000 cars and trucks produced by Japanese manufacturers in the US were exported, accounting for nearly 19% of all US automobile exports, according to the JAMA report. The following year Honda exported 108,000 vehicles, well in excess of the 88,500 it imported from Japan. The company is not alone in this trend. Japan’s largest automaker, Toyota, which has extensive operations throughout the US, exported even more vehicles last year, a record of 130,000. This is part of Toyota’s ongoing plan to increase exports from its North American manufacturing base. The company recently announced it has begun to export its Highlander SUVs to countries in Europe and Asia from its plant in Princeton, Indiana. They expect to hire 200 additional team members to meet this new demand.

As for Honda, “We did not set out to be a net exporter,” explained senior vice president of Honda North America, Rick Schostek to the Washington Post “What we did set out to do was become self-reliant in North America.” In doing so, Honda, which now operates 10 US plants and directly employs 28,000 Americans (and thousands more through suppliers and dealerships), became the vanguard of a subset of the American automobile industry in which eight Japanese car companies contribute an estimated 1.36 million US jobs. Now that an increasing level of this production is being sold abroad as US exports, the definition of “Made in America” in this important industry continues to evolve. 

For an image of the first Accords produced by Honda in Marysville in 1982 and for more information on Japanese auto manufacturing in the US, please explore the three-part Japan Matters for America mini-series “One Car Two Drivers.”