Do you know where your car, truck, or SUV was made? While many folks overlook the fine print*, the place of origin has significant implications on the American economy. The auto industry is back on track, with 16.9 million new vehicles sold in America in 2014, up from a low point of 11.5 million in 2009. This resurgence has created over 400,000 new jobs over that timespan, at automotive manufacturers, suppliers, and dealerships.
Last week’s Made Across America initiative was a truly unique experience. The organizers of the Washington DC Auto Show asked every automobile manufacturer – with an American plant – to drive the vehicles built in those plants to our nation’s capitol. I had the honor of driving with the Chrysler (FCA) team, as we piloted a squadron of four vehicles from Detroit to DC.
Our fleet consisted of:
- Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel 4×4 – Built in Warren, Michigan
- Chrysler 200S AWD – Built in Sterling Heights, Michigan
- Jeep Cherokee 4X4 – Built in Toledo, Ohio
- Dodge Durango R/T 4×4 – Built in Detroit, Michigan
The Jeep Toledo plant was our first stop on the drive. Home to the venerable Wrangler as well as the Cherokee, the Toledo plant runs two assembly lines and employs over 5,000. After a quick stop for photos, we grabbed lunch at Tony Packo’s (a must visit for chili fans) and headed to Pittsburgh for the night.
The Ram 1500 Laramie Longhorn EcoDiesel delivered a remarkably fuel efficient and luxurious ride. The EcoDiesel clocked in at an admirable 28.2 MPG over a 93.5 mile stretch of Interstate highways and two-lane blacktop. It should be noted that I spent most of the drive chasing the lead vehicles, with my foot heavier on the pedal than my normal routine. (I’m confident that I’ll be able to push the Ram EcoDiesel well into the 30s when I have the chance to test it over my standard routes.)
As we drove through endless miles of farmland and countryside, I thought about the 4×4 EcoDiesel’s capability. Not only is this truck the most fuel-efficient sold in America (the 2015 model takes a bump up to 28 MPG highway, up from 27), but it can run B20 biodiesel. Twenty percent of the diesel fuel can be sourced from renewable domestic sources, whether from farmed sources or waste products. That’s pretty cool in my book.
After an overnight stay in Pittsburgh and a visit to the Andy Worhol Museum the next morning, we headed east. I was driving the Chrysler 200 as we stopped to refuel, and was pleased to see the yellow cap upon opening the fuel filler door. The 200s Pentastar V6 is FlexFuel-capable and can run blends of up to 85 percent high-octane (E85) ethanol. Domestically produced renewable ethanol is one of the cornerstones of our nation’s growing capability for energy independence, despite what the oil industry might want you to believe. While the vast majority of gasoline sold in America today contains ten percent ethanol, there are millions of FlexFuel vehicles on the road that provide their owners with the power of choice at the pump.
As we drive forward into the future, it’s not just the vehicles that will be made across America. It’s the fuel, as well. Localized production of fuel – whether it’s biodiesel, ethanol, or drop-in fuels like CoolPlanet and PrimusGreenEnergy – will become commonplace. While fracking may have the headlines now, the wisdom of local production of alternative fuels – and the jobs that result, will prevail. In the end, “all politics is local.”
As our route wound through Western Pennsylvania we stopped at the Aliner pop-up camper plant in Mount Pleasant, for a tour of their production facilities. The Aliner has a unique A-frame design that pops and drops in just half a minutes time. Each camper is hand-assembled, using a retro-cool process that provides stark contrast to the modern automotive assembly line. (Note: Aliner’s parent company recently picked up the rights and tooling to produce classic Coleman pop-up campers.)
I piloted the Cherokee on the voyage from Pennsylvania, through West Virginia and finally into Washington DC that evening. The twisty highways provided plenty of opportunities to test the Cherokee’s optional lane keep assistance and adaptive cruise control. We rolled into town just before the State of the Union address. The next morning, we drove to Capitol Hill for the photo opp. The snow kicked in on schedule as we waited for Rep. Debbie Dingell’s speech. I was hopping up and down to stay warm and was inspired to record a piece of silliness with my iPhone …
* The Window Sticker a.k.a. “the Monroney,” lists the Final Assembly point, along with the country of origin for the engine and transmission, as well as a percentage of US/Canadian content vs major sources of foreign parts.
Disclaimer: FCA paid for my flight to Detroit and accommodations on the drive and in Washington, DC. I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. The opinions posted here are my own.
– by Daniel Gray