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GM to Hike Auto Exports to Japan : Officials Say Move Takes Advantage of Weaker Dollar

November 13, 1987|JAMES RISEN | Times Staff Writer

DETROIT — General Motors will increase its modest exports of U.S.-built autos to Japan next year, taking advantage of the decline in the value of the dollar against the Japanese yen, GM officials said Thursday.

GM President Robert Stempel said that, early next year, the company will begin shipping its sporty Pontiac Grand Am, along with its new Chevrolet Corsica and Beretta compact models, into Japan.

The Grand Am models to be exported come from a GM assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., while the Corsica and Beretta are built in Linden, N.J., and Wilmington, Del.

Suzuki Motor Co., the Japanese auto maker that is partly owned by GM, will handle the Japanese distribution of the GM cars, a GM spokesman said.

The company expects to ship about 1,000 of the new models to Japan next year, the spokesman added.

GM thus becomes the second major American auto maker in two weeks to announce plans to step up exports to Japan in the wake of the dollar's plunge, which has made it cheaper to buy American goods overseas. In late October, Ford said it plans to begin exporting "several thousand" of its popular Ford Taurus model to Japan early next year, and will follow with other U.S.-built products.

But U.S. auto exports to Japan will still be tiny compared to the massive Japanese exports to America. Even with the new program, GM's exports to Japan will only total about 4,000 units in 1988; it currently ships about 3,000 Cadillacs, Chevrolet Camaros and Corvettes, as well as other pricey models, to collectors and other affluent Japanese buyers each year.

Sales Minute

Meanwhile, Ford sold just 637 cars in Japan through the first nine months of this year, according to the Japan External Trade Organization, a trade agency affiliated with the Japanese government.

Chrysler, which has yet to announce any plans to step up its Japanese exports, sold only 214 cars in Japan during the first three quarters of 1987.

Still, the dollar's rapid decline against the yen has led to a sudden rise this year in auto imports into Japan, a huge market that has been traditionally closed to foreign auto makers. West German luxury cars are doing especially well in Japan this year.

The numbers remain small, however--total auto imports rose to just 71,674 units in the first nine months of 1987, up 42.2% from the 1986 level of 50,409, while total U.S. imports reached 2,939, up 69.2% from the 1,737 level of the same period last year.

But the Japanese are apparently hoping to convince their trading partners, who have been frustrated by Japan's unwillingness to open its markets to foreign products, that the rise in auto imports is significant. In fact, the Japan External Trade Organization issued a press release in America last week claiming that the large percentage increase--despite the small unit volume--now means that "the Japanese import car market is the fastest growing market in the world."

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