Where did your car come from? Depending on the model, there’s actually a high chance it was built in America. As this week we’re celebrating the Fourth of July and our nation’s independence, we thought it appropriate to take a look at domestic car assembly plants.
At many factories, the level of secrecy approaches that of government offices. No outsiders and definitely no cameras will ever breach the chain-link fences. But at other facilities, employees gladly lead tourists, curious locals, and car nuts on a guided tour around the moving assembly lines that build our vehicles. Here’s a list of major automotive factory tours within the U.S. If you have some extra vacation time this summer, consider checking out the factory tour closest to you.
BMW started building cars in America back in 1994, and since then the Spartanburg plant has been responsible for a continually changing list of cars — from the 318i to the Z3 and Z4, and now the brand’s X3, X5, and X6 SUVs.The hour-long walking tour of the plant costs $7 per person, with a $3.50 discount for BMW CCA members or students. Tours are currently suspended and won’t resume until August 6.
Also on site is the BMW Zentrum museum, which houses a variety of cars from the automaker’s past. It’s open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. It is the only official BMW museum in the U.S.
The General Motors factory in Bowling Green makes just one vehicle: the Chevrolet Corvette, in all its various forms. The one-mile walking tour shows nearly every step of Corvette assembly, from robots welding the steel chassis, to the marriage of the chassis and body. Tours depart Monday through Thursday at 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 12:45 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. The cost is $7 per person.
Chevrolet also has a more in-depth tour for Corvette buyers. For $400, the program allows a Corvette buyer and his or her guest to see the paint shop, engine preparation, and other stops along the production line. The factory will even attempt to ensure that each customer can watch his or her actual car being assembled.
Ford’s Rouge Factory Tour allows visitors to walk through the Dearborn Truck Plant, responsible for building the best-selling F-150 pickup truck. The factory tour is actually just one of five components to the Rouge experience, which includes films documenting the history of the century-old River Rouge facility.Buses for the tour leave from the Henry Ford Museum, which houses a collection of cars, planes, trains, and other significant items from American history.
The Rouge Factory Tour is open Monday through Saturday, between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Prices range from $9.25 to $15.
Hyundai offers a 90-minute tour of its assembly plant in Alabama, which builds the Elantra and Sonata sedans. The tour takes visitors to several different buildings on the campus by way of trams, which have anaudio tour. Tours are free but reservations must be made ahead of time. Groups depart Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. The on-site visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Mercedes-Benz began building the M-Class SUV in Alabama in January 1997, and since then the factory has expanded to also build the GL- and R-Class SUVs. The three-million square-foot factory offers a look at the assembly lines for these vehicles. Each tour lasts approximately 90 minutes and involves walking two miles.The cost is $5, with tours held Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. There also is a visitor center featuring important vehicles from Mercedes’ history. Admission is free, and the center is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Nissan — Smyrna, TN; Canton, MS; Decherd, TN
Nissan offers tours at its three plants in the U.S. The Smyrna plant has built a wide variety of vehicles since production started there in 1983. Today the factory assembles the Altima, Frontier pickup truck, Maxima, Xterra, and Pathfinder.The plant is currently closed for vacation, and tours are booked through the end of July. Tours are available at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call (615) 459-1444 for more information.
The Canton plant builds the Altima, Armada SUV, Titan pickup truck, and NV commercial van. Tours there are also held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call (601) 855-8687 for more information.
Finally, the Decherd powertrain plant builds four-, six-, and eight-cylinder engines for Nissan and Infiniti vehicles sold here, as well as for models exported to Spain and Thailand. Nissan will soon use the plant to build engines designed by Mercedes parent company Daimler. Tours are available at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the first Tuesday and third Thursday of each month. Call (931) 962-5624 for more information.
For an automotive-themed diversion in Las Vegas, Shelby American offers a tour of its museum and production facility. Tours are free and leave at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday. The Shelby Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. The museum includes exhibits like the very first Shelby Cobra, dubbed CSX2000, as well as prototypes of cars like the Shelby GT-H and GT500KR.
Subaru began producing cars at its plant in Lafayette in 1989, and currently assembles the Tribeca, Outback, and Legacy in the 3.4-million square-foot factory. The bustling factory assembled over 250,000 vehicles last year, and has a claimed 10.7 miles of conveyor belts. Free guided tours are available that take visitors on a one-mile walk along elevated catwalks, from which nearly all the plant’s manufacturing steps are visible. Each tour lasts about 90 minutes, and starts at 9 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Toyota broke ground on its factory in Kentucky in 1986. Today the giant plant builds over 300,000 vehicles annually, and employs nearly 7000 people. Current products assembled include the Camry, Avalon, Venza, and both four- and six-cylinder engines. The factory tour takes place on an electric tram that drives visitors through all the stages of vehicle assembly. Guests can even see the very first Toyota Camry that was ever built on American soil. Tours are free and leave at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. The factory’s visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Are there any other factories that you would recommend visiting? Leave a note in the comments section below.