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Here’s a Kia Sorento Driven by the U.S. Government

If you’re like me, you’ve grown up seeing the occasional U.S. government vehicle — always easily identifiable with its distinctive license plates — and noting that in nearly all cases, it was a boring white base-model American-made car, and often something really terrible like a Chevy Cavalier or an old Ford E-Series van.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I was driving through Arches National Park last week, and I caught a glimpse of this: a not-American Kia Sorento, painted a not-a-usual-government-color gray, wearing U.S. government plates registered to the Department of the Interior (denoted by an "I" at the beginning). Has the government gotten more stylish?! Have they started reading Autotrader’s car reviews?!

As it turns out, the Kia Sorento is within the realm of the vehicles that can be purchased by the U.S. government. Under the Buy American Act of 1933, the government must purchase U.S.-made goods in most circumstances, unless they can find foreign-made goods dramatically cheaper. Since it’s built in West Point, Georgia, the Kia Sorento is certainly "American-made," allowing the government to buy the Sorento and still comply with the law.

Interestingly, I suspect the "Buy American Act" actually restricts the government from purchasing some vehicles made by American brands, as they’re built in foreign countries. For example, the Dodge Journey — probably the cheapest vehicle in the "Kia Sorento" segment — is manufactured in Mexico, meaning the government isn’t allowed to buy it. A base-level Sorento is among the cheapest other options, which probably drove the government’s ultimate purchase decision.

This isn’t the first foreign car I’ve seen with a U.S. government license plate. Back when I lived in Georgia, I’d occasionally see a Hyundai Sonata sporting a plate registered to the general Governmental Services Administration (GSA) motor pool, something I attributed to the fact that those cars are built in Georgia. But apparently those Sonatas aren’t alone, and Georgia isn’t unique. I’ve still never seen a U.S. government license plate on a Japanese car, or anything from Europe — but if it’s built in America and relatively cheap, I suppose it’s possible. Find a Kia Sorento for sale

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Remember the Saturn Aura Hybrid? About 90% of those I’ve seen were parked outside a GSA building in Southwest DC. Uncle Sam probably got a good deal on those.

  2. I work for the federal government, and at my office the motor pool currently consists of a couple older Focus Hybrids, Dodge Caravans, Ford C-Max hybrids, Chevy Volts, and a bunch of hybrid Hyundai Sonatas and regular Elatntas. Grounds crew has a bunch of different Chevy pickups.

    This is the best mix we’ve had in the 10 years I’ve been here, but I miss those beige and burgundy Impalas.  Awful interiors, but very comfortable for sitting in NYC traffic.  The hybrids make more sense for that, though, and the small ones are easier to parallel park.

  3. I’m not sure your statement about the Journey is true. The Grand Caravan is built in Windsor, Ontario and I’ve seen numerous with government tags on them. 

    • My understanding is the law says they have to buy domestic unless none is available.  I don’t think there are any domestically built minivans, unless you count the MV-1 handicapped van. 

  4. Is the law any different on the state/city/county level than on the federal? Asking because in Albuquerque the vast majority of government-owned vehicles are nissan altimas. Any others are usually ford or chevy trucks/SUVs used for hauling or other heavy duty work. 

    • I don’t think NM has any “buy american” statues on the books.  NMSU has a few Honda Accord hybrids in the fleet, along with a bunch of newer kei trucks used by facilities and grounds folks (but only on campus roads).

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