Your iPhone is designed in California, but made in China. It’s likely to stay that way

Your iPhone is designed in California, but made in China. It’s likely to stay that way

The 15-minute video begins with upbeat music against a title slide that reads “We Are Manufacturing.” It cuts to a shot of a clear blue sky, with the Stars and Stripes and California’s Bear Flag ruffling in the breeze. 

As the camera pans toward a high-tech looking building, the narrator tells us we’re in Fremont, California, about an hour’s drive from the heart of Silicon Valley.

“People and machines work together to build the highest quality personal computers in the industry,” the narrator says, as the screen cycles through images of microchips and boards moving through an assembly line while workers test and inspect them.

“This facility combines state-of-the-art equipment with a skilled workforce to achieve manufacturing excellence.”  

Eventually, the parts end up inside a Macintosh. Apple’s revolutionary personal computer is then stamped with its serial number, trademarks and government licensing information. 

This isn’t some totem from an alternative universe where Apple builds the technology we depend on in the US. It’s a marketing video that dates back more than three decades — from the halcyon days when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was obsessed with showing his company was savvy enough to manufacture its technology in the US, just as well as the powerhouse Japanese consumer electronics giants of the time. 

Spoiler: Apple couldn’t. The factory was shuttered in 1992, and the company shifted those jobs to Asia.

Three decades later, millions of American manufacturing jobs have shifted overseas, leading many companies to almost entirely rely on factories that are a boat, plane or long haul drive away from their customers. But now that may be starting to change.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed how fragile this whole system is. Many factories in China were forced to shut down as the virus began its spread. But that wasn’t all. Even as Chinese factories began to slowly restart manufacturing, companies faced disruptions in shipping, trucking, air travel. And soon enough, shelves in stores around the country started to go empty.

Manufacturing experts and advocates say the last year highlighted how, even in a pinch, American manufacturing hasn’t been able to fill the gap. It’s also partly why in January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order bolstering “Buy American” rules, encouraging the federal government to spend its multitrillion dollar budget purchasing goods with up to 75% of parts made in the US. Boosting demand for American products, he hopes, will get companies to start reinvesting in manufacturing back home to fill that demand.

Biden isn’t alone in trying to solve this problem. Jobs’ successor, CEO Tim Cook, pledged in April that Apple will spend $430 billion on US investments that’ll add 20,000 jobs in the United States over the next five years to work on 5G wireless, artificial intelligence and silicon chips.

But there’s a limit to how far this can go. Even with that multibillion dollar investment, it’s unlikely Apple and Cook will make US manufacturing the next big thing for key Apple products. The iPhone, Apple’s top moneymaker, will most likely continue to be assembled at factories in China for many years to come. To make that change, the US would need to spend years investing in new manufacturing technologies while also offsetting lower wages and other costs from overseas, experts and advocates say. The United States would also need to rebuild its apprenticeship and education systems to improve the pipeline of American workers for manufacturing jobs, and convince people it’s a worthwhile career field to join. 

Robert Rodriguez/CNET

The global supply chain of parts for the products Americans love — mobile phones, cars, computers, refrigerators, silverware, patio furniture — would need to expand back to American shores too.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle to American manufacturing is you and me, our friends and family. We vote with our wallets. And even though “Buy American” polls well, we all seem to keep buying stuff no matter where it came from.

“Am I willing to do the legwork to find what’s made in the US or find what was made locally and purchase that to give my signal to the system?” says Krystyn Van Vliet, a professor, research VP and associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who looks for ways to bring products designed from MIT’s research out into the real world.

She adds, “Consumers signal to manufacturers what consumers want, so we have a responsibility if we want this to change.”


Every iPhone says it’s “Designed by Apple in California.” But it’s assembled somewhere else.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Biden’s Buy American

Decades ago, car companies, drug manufacturers and some toy makers manufactured their products in the US (except Barbie — it was never made here.) But these days, a lot of the clothing you’ll find on the rack in your closet likely came at least in part from countries like Vietnam, Bangladesh or Colombia. Mattel’s figurines and other toys are produced in China, Indonesia and Mexico, among other places. This morning I shaved using a razor blade made from Chinese steel. 

And if you want to track products from the tech industry, that’s even harder. As gadgets and gizmos have gotten smaller, more advanced and embedded into our lives, the tech industry has turned into a sprawling worldwide network of suppliers and manufacturers. Minerals extracted from mines in Africa, Australia, South America and the US take trips around the world to be melted, treated, extruded and shaped into microchips, sensors, batteries and even special types of glass.

That all seemed to work well — until the pandemic anyway. Then, factory shutdowns in Asia contributed to shortages of cars, various drugs and even garlic (China grows 80% of the world’s supply). Experts say America’s lack of manufacturing capability meant that we’d struggle, even in a national emergency, to build everything we need. And even Apple, long renowned as one of the most sophisticated supply chain companies in the world, cautioned that parts shortages were limiting how many iPad tablets and Mac computers it could build.

For his part, Biden is betting the federal government’s trillions of dollars in buying power will help convince companies to start reinvesting in the states, even after the pandemic threat passes. “We’re going to make sure that they buy American and are made in America,” Biden said after signing the “Buy American” order, flanked by a sign that featured the presidential seal and said “The Future Will Be Made in America.”

On July 28, Biden added to his order by increasing the percentage of parts that need to make up a product for it to be considered “Made in America,” from 55% to 60%, and eventually 75%. Speaking at a Mack Trucks manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, Biden emphasized that the federal government owns about 600,000 cars and that not enough of the parts in the vehicles are made in the US.


On July 28, at the Mack Trucks Lehigh Valley Operations facility in Macungie, Pennsylvania, Biden proposed a new rule that would up the requirements for US-made parts in goods sold to the government.

Ryan Collerd/Getty Images

Making more products in America is an idea that presidents of both parties have long tried to push. Donald Trump, whose MAGA hat, ties and other swag are made in China, won the presidency in 2016 with the help of manufacturing-heavy states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. He promised to bring American factory jobs back home. Some of those jobs did come back to the US during his four years in office, but at roughly the same rate as during Barack Obama’s administration.

Biden is hoping to make more progress than his predecessors by creating a new “Made in America” team within the Office of Management and Budget. In April he tapped Celeste Drake, a longtime labor rights advocate and government liaison at various unions, to act as its first director. Drake’s role is to make sure the federal government rewards US-based companies, including small businesses, by giving them government contracts.

“Made in America laws are not a mere compliance exercise,” Drake wrote in a June blog post on the White House website, “but an opportunity to support the President’s goals to tackle climate change, promote worker and environmental justice, and build back a stronger domestic manufacturing base.”

To be sure, there are some things we still make in America, even if they aren’t iPhones. Wahl makes motors for its premium hair clippers here, and Weber makes its top rated grills. The Airstream trailer is still made in Ohio, and jazz musician Doc Severinsen buys his instruments from a small company in Massachusetts. You can bake a cake with an American-made KitchenAid stand mixer. Corning makes glass for cars, kitchen appliances and phones out of factories in places like Kentucky. And don’t forget the famous Wisconsin Cheesehead foam hat, still made in Milwaukee.

But the truth is that though we do make some premium products domestically, buying completely American-made goods every day isn’t easy. A lot of stuff is no longer made in a single town or factory. Instead, it’s assembled from parts brought together from around the world. That’s especially true of anything with a battery or a microchip in it.

Even the cream for my chapped knuckles says it’s “Made in USA with Domestic and Imported Materials.”

“This is a problem, but not unsolvable,” said Harry Moser, head of the Reshoring Initiative, an advocacy organization whose tagline is “bringing manufacturing back home,” and that’s supported in part by the Association for Manufacturing Technology.

He agrees with analysts who say there’s no one fix to bring “Made in America” back to what it once was. It would take about a decade of concerted investment, he says, to graduate people with the right skills, certificates, training or degrees necessary to build back up American manufacturing capability. It’ll also take years to shift supply chains currently focused on bringing parts into and out of Asia.

“As we bring the manufacturing back, we’ll put more people into those jobs, and then we’ll have all that expertise,” Moser says.

He also supports investing in apprenticeships and training centers, to help people learn skills they need to either enter or change their careers. And he believes the US government needs to carefully impose tariffs and value-added taxes to “take the tilt out of the playing field,” referring to the Chinese government’s reported subsidies to its industries to keep prices low.

“There is no one thing alone that can get this stuff done,” Moser adds.


Tesla makes many of its cars at a factory in Fremont, California. 

James Martin/CNET

No easy fix

Bringing back American manufacturing won’t be as easy as “Buy American” either, it turns out, because it’s hard to define what “American Made” even means., for example, publishes an annual list of cars whose parts were made in North America, compiled using government labeling programs. But even that’s hard to track. “This notion of being ‘very American’ has dropped over the years,” said Kelsey Mays, the site’s consumer news editor. 

Last year, 121 of the 344 passenger vehicles sold in the US were at least assembled here, the survey found. That includes the Ford Mustang and Jeep Cherokee, assembled in Michigan and Illinois respectively. The top of the list includes Tesla’s Model 3 and Model Y sedans, which are assembled in Fremont, not far from Apple’s old Mac factory site.

“In a perfect world, you’d buy a product where all the R&D, manufacturing, production and everything came from your neck of the woods,” Mays said. But as carmakers have expanded their reach — selling cars made to be sold in Chattanooga and Chongqing alike — American manufacturing jobs and the skill-based expertise needed to work them has waned.

What needs to happen next, and hasn’t as much in the US, is investment and more innovation in new types of manufacturing. We need to invent things like processes to recycle used materials into new ones, or come up with advanced technology to make the next big thing. “That’s a huge workforce growth opportunity for us,” said MIT’s Associate Provost Van Vliet. “It takes technology and it takes investment.”

For companies that get it right, there can be a big reward, she said. But right now US companies, schools and families aren’t focused on making that happen.


Apple CEO Tim Cook oversees one of the most sophisticated supply chains in the world.

James Martin/CNET

“There are skills that are associated with manufacturing that have left the US,” Apple’s Cook said in a 2012 interview with NBC. It’s not just the cheap labor screwing and gluing and…

Esta nota es parte de la red de Wepolis y fué publicada por California Corresponsal el 2021-08-05 13:16:55 en:

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