There’s a lot of confusion about computers that are made in the USA. Is it possible? What about a computer that’s assembled in the USA from foreign components? That’s more like it. But here’s the thing: according to the strict, perhaps outdated qualifications set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), technically no computer can even be considered to be “assembled” in the USA, even with foreign components.
In short, there’s no straight answer. The government thinks a computer that’s made in the USA doesn’t exist. If you use common sense, it does exist. So what’s the deal?
The realities of the computer industry
Like many industries, the United States doesn’t manufacture as many products as it used to. We have a lot of American companies that could be making components in the USA, but instead they choose to make them overseas. There are also a lot of foreign companies that make excellent products overseas as well. The computer industry is almost completely based in Asia; mainly China, Taiwan, and Korea. If an American computer company like Lotus wants to make their products in the USA, the truth is the parts have to come from overseas. There’s no way around it. On occasion we’ll get some minor computer parts that are assembled in the USA, but it’s random and we have no control over where the parts are made. The same part number can be made in half a dozen factories around the world. That’s how the global economy works.
How it works in the real world
First, you take several different components — even if made in a foreign country — like a processor, motherboard, memory, etc. Then you put them together by hand, plugging in each piece of this rather complicated puzzle and then carefully connecting, routing and tying down cables. You inspect it, test it, install the operating system, set it up, test it some more, and package it. That’s a lot of work.
The person doing all this work in one country would logically be doing the assembly work, so that means if all this work was done in the United States, that means it’s an “American-assembled” computer. This is the way we see it, and our customers agree. Basically, if all this work is being done in the USA even if all the components are made in another country, the computer is assembled in the USA. But that’s not good enough for the FTC’s outdated guidelines.
How the US Government sees it
The Federal Trade Commission and US Customs state that for a product to be called assembled/built/made in the USA, it must undergo what they call a substantial transformation. This basically means a company takes raw ingredients or components (regardless of origin) and makes a new product out of it. For some reason, the FTC specifically states that the “screwdriver assembly” of computer components to make a computer is not a substantial transformation. Does that make common sense?
The “screwdriver assembly” argument made by the FTC refers to this assembly process at the end of the entire manufacturing process. If you have a dozen computer components that are just pieces of plastic and metal, put them together and make a working computer out of it, that sounds like a “substantial transformation” to us.
We can’t legally say a Lotus computer is assembled in the USA
But logically, it’s the same thing. The FTC doesn’t want us to say that our computers are assembled in the USA, even if we specify that we use foreign components. The truth is the work we do should allow us to call our computers “assembled in the USA”. The law has not caught up to the fast changing world of technology. “Made in the USA” implies that the components are domestic and the computer was assembled in America as well. We don’t call our computers “made in the USA”, because we know that’s misleading.
The average American understands that nearly all components used in a computer are made in Asia. The average American also understands that if those components are put together to make a fully functional computer in the United States, logically that computer was assembled in the USA.
Our customers ask us a lot if the components are foreign or domestic. We always say that most of the components are foreign, but we go on to explain the work that goes into it. In the end, our customers care not about the origin of the components, but the amount of work and care put in by American hands to make every Lotus computer.
We can’t legally say “a Lotus computer is assembled in the USA”, but we can’t stop people from reading between the lines and seeing what goes into a Lotus computer. We use foreign components and there’s no way around it, no matter how hard we try. The work done by American hands on each Lotus computer is substantial, and common sense suggests the work we do is indeed assembly work. We just can’t legally say that. So it’s up to you to decide if a Lotus computer is American enough. If you’re looking for an American-made computer, a Lotus computer is as close as you can get, no matter where you look. But to the lawyers at the FTC, it’s not enough. Silly, right?