Three of the nation's four largest auto makers are asking the Reagan administration to pressure Japanese car companies into a fifth year of "voluntary restraints" on shipments of cars, vans and station wagons to the United States.
The chief executives of Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. this month wrote to President Reagan, urging continuation of the quotas, which have been in effect since April 1981 and are due to expire next March. American Motors Corp. is also petitioning the White House for a fifth year of quotas, said Marvin Stucky, AMC vice president for governmental affairs.
The Ford letter, written last Wednesday, was cosigned by United Auto Workers Union President Owen Bieber, who says the quotas are needed to protect American jobs.
Administration officials say they plan to make no decision on those requests until after January, when the annual sales and earnings reports of the auto companies will be available.
The American International Automobile Dealers Association, a Washington-based organization representing 6,500 foreign car dealers in the United States, says quotas constitute an unfair restraint of trade and greatly increase new-car prices.
Current restrictions hold the shipment of Japanese passenger cars to this country to 1.85 million annually. Vans and station wagons increase that number to nearly 2 million, according to industry analysts. Japanese pickup trucks are not affected by the quotas, which partly accounts for the growing purchase of pickups as personal-use vehicles, analysts say.
According to the industry trade journal Automotive News, analysts currently are forecasting a continuation of some form of restrictions that could allow Japanese passenger car exports to the United States of 1.9 million to 2.3 million units in 1985.
Nearly 80 percent of the Japanese auto makers' latest fiscal year profits came from U.S. sales, the trade journal said.
General Motors Corp., the nation's biggest car manufacturer, opposes extension of the quotas. The restrictions are blocking GM's plans to import small cars from its Japanese partners, Isuzu and Suzuki, and its Korean partner, Daewoo Motor Co.
GM officials yesterday declined to comment on the campaign for quota extension.
Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca, in an Oct. 5 letter to Reagan, complained that lifting limits on Japanese imports could hurt the economic recovery. "The level of recovery for the auto industry -- especially for Chrysler -- has been substantial," Iacocca wrote. "But it is fragile, and we need the chance to put this recovery on a firm base so that we can fulfill our pledge to invest in modern technology and products in this country."
The Chrysler chairman said he believes "that two more years of restraint provide a unique window of opportunity" to address economic factors that adversely affect the domestic auto industry but are outside the control of U.S. auto makers.
Those factors include a "misalignment between the undervalued Japanese yen and the overvalued dollar," Iacocca said, reiterating a complaint frequently made by him in the past.
Bieber and Caldwell also argued in their letter that quotas are needed to correct what they said are unfair competitive advantages held by the Japanese. The union leader and Ford president also pointed to their new labor pact, which they said showed their "joint determination to become competitive" with the Japanese.
The Ford-UAW contract and its counterpart at GM are expected to raise labor costs at both companies by about 7 percent annually over the next three years, assuming a 5 percent inflation rate. "The agreement allows auto workers to share in the nation's economic recovery. At the same time, it avoids renewed pressure on inflation," the Caldwell-Bieber letter said.
Nonsense, says AIADA President Robert M. McElwaine.The contracts mean inflationary labor costs that will be paid for with profits derived from a protected market, McElwaine said. "All it means is higher costs for consumers," he said. labor costs that will be paid for with profits derived from a protected market, McElwaine said. "All it means is higher costs for consumers," he said.