The recent news that four foreign manufacturers were penalized for dumping washing machines here, sometimes selling them at 82 percent below market value, is sure to stir up the Made-in-America debate anew. But buying an appliance made in the U.S. and buying one made solely with American parts and labor are two entirely different things.
The ruling against Daewoo, Electrolux, LG, and Samsung, cheered by Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool, came after our magazine feature on Made in America products went to press. Whirlpool has an extra reason to celebrate. The U.S. Commerce Department's preliminary ruling, this past summer, had included Whirlpool International, which was then manufacturing washers in Mexico, mostly over its failure to cooperate in the investigation. Ironically, it was Whirlpool that originally petitioned the Commerce Department to investigate dumping by other companies.
Whirlpool was not included in the final ruling because it moved washer production to Ohio after the preliminary ruling. In fact Whirlpool now makes about 80 percent of the products it sells in this country in U.S. plants. "On the one hand, U.S. labor costs are often higher than in other countries," says Casey Tubman, Whirlpool's general manager of cleaning. "But when you look at the higher productivity for American workers and consider the fact that it's very expensive to ship something as big as a refrigerator or washer, we can quickly make up those costs."
Still, even an appliance manufactured in America will have some parts that are made offshore. For Whirlpool's newest front-load washers for the U.S. market, the company expects that 76 percent of parts will be U.S.-made. The remainder come from Mexico and Asia, primarily China. And while regulations from the Federal Trade Commission require that a product be "all or virtually all" made in America to be labeled as such, parsing the parts is no easy task. A motor, for instance, might be U.S.-made overall, but a circuit board mounted on it might come from a second country and certain chips on that board might come from still other countries.
Some of the top washing machines in Consumer Reports tests are mostly made in America, including Whirlpool's Duet WFW94HEX[W] front-loader and the Whirlpool-made Maytag Maxima MHW6000X[W], both $1,100. Recommended top loaders from Whirlpool's brands include the Maytag Bravos XL MVWB750Y[W], $850, and the Whirlpool Cabrio WTW5700X[W], $800.
Unfortunately, buying mostly American doesn't guarantee top performance or reliability. Models from LG (including the LG-made Kenmore models) and Samsung, both South Korean brands, dominate our recommendations for both front- and top-load washers, and, according to our reader surveys, LG and Samsung are the most reliable brands for front-loaders. Whirlpool is in the middle of the pack, while GE front-loaders were the most repair prone.
To find out how a washer model or brand fared in our tests, see the results of our washing machine tests. Or read our entire report, Made in America? for information on cars, clothes and other products.