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Automotive Parts Industry Late Entrant in Nation's Move Toward High-Quality, Low-Cost Production

August 09, 1987

The Aug. 2 article by Tom Redburn and James Flanigan, "U.S. Firms Regain Competitive Edge," was as well-written as it was informative.

Unfortunately, the manufacturing renaissance is not universal among U.S. industries. One of those most at risk is the automotive parts industry. High quality at low cost is a concept just embraced by Detroit. American parts and components suppliers, accustomed to the acceptance of sub-par products, have been unable to meet the quality standards that all auto makers now demand. The result will be an estimated 300% increase in the next two years in the number of Japanese parts suppliers manufacturing in the United States, which now number about 75.

This growth is also aided by other factors: the "bargain" U.S. dollar, generous taxpayer-financed state and local subsidies and the bias toward Japanese parts design. That bias stems from the expectation that, by 1992, 50% of the cars sold in the United States will be imported from Japan, assembled here by Japanese car makers or manufactured here to Japanese designs.

Protectionism offers no economic answer, only political pandering. Protectionism would only shield us, as our huge domestic market tends to, from the inexorable competitive drive of technology, quality and product design. Our greatest problem, competitively, is sitting back in our comfortable home market, waiting for our ever-stronger overseas competitors to come and challenge us. By the time they get here, it is often too late. We must learn to fight where we can learn earlier, and where the risks are not so great--in the other guy's home market.

RICHARD J. SINGER

Hartsdale, N.Y.

The author is on the board of directors of the Automotive Parts and Accessories Assn ., based in Lanham, Md.

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