Japan's decision to renew quotas on its automobile exports to the United States will have little impact, because the growing strength of the yen, coupled with other market forces, makes it unlikely that the Japanese will sell enough cars to bump up against the limits, auto industry analysts and officials said yesterday.
Many Japanese-nameplate cars already are made in this country and are not subject to the quotas. For the Japanese companies to sell enough made-in-Japan cars to hit the limits, they will have to overcome not only higher prices that result from the growth of the yen, but also a rising tide of competing imports from South Korea, Eastern Europe and Taiwan, the analysts and officials said.
"The quotas are becoming irrelevant," said David Cole, director of the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan.
Japan's announced decision yesterday to hold its shipments of two-wheel-drive cars at last year's 2.3-million-unit level "does not change the movement of the domestic car market at all," Cole said.
That movement is toward a consumer-driven market, characterized by an oversupply of cars, huge auto-production capacity, sales incentives and relatively moderate price increases, Cole said.
In such a market, competing auto companies tend to be more concerned with market share than profit. That, perhaps, is why Japanese auto makers are accepting moderate price increases on their 1986 models despite a sharp increase in the strength of the yen, Cole and other analysts said.
The average value of the yen during both 1983 and 1984 was about 237 to the dollar. The yen bottomed out at 260 to the dollar in February 1985, but by yesterday it had climbed back to 183.50 to the dollar in Tokyo, about a 30 percent rise in its value over a year ago.
Meanwhile, Japanese auto makers have raised their export prices by about 6 percent, not nearly enough to offset the 30 percent decline in the number of yen that they earn from a sale.
Prices on 1986 Japanese cars sold in the United States have gone up an average of $400 over comparably equipped 1985 models. An estimated $111 of that increase is directly attributable to the increasing strength of the yen, according to some analysts.
Japan's reluctance to go for higher increases does not represent an attempt to "dump" its cars on the U.S. market, said Robert McElwaine, president of the Washington-based American International Automobile Dealers Association, which represents some 7,000 franchised foreign-car dealers in the United States.
"The Japanese are worried about market share," McElwaine said.
The Japanese held 20.1 percent of the U.S. auto market last year, compared with 18.4 percent in 1984. Aggressive sales-incentive campaigns by domestic auto makers in the last two quarters of 1985 helped keep the Japanese market-share growth in check.
Domestic manufacturers still are running sales-incentive campaigns and are expected to keep them going throughout 1986.
For example, Chrysler Corp. announced an ambitious campaign yesterday to sell 232,000 modified versions of its subcompact Omni/Horizon cars this year through an incentive program that will reduce the sales price of those models by $710. In addition, the modified cars -- called the "America" models -- would come with $684 in free options, for an aggregate saving to consumers of $1,394 a car. The Americas will carry a base price of $5,499 beginning May 15.
Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca said that the pricing strategy is designed to weaken the Japanese hold on the U.S. small-car market.
The America's cut-rate pricing is possible because suppliers and workers have agreed to cost-saving measures, Iacocca said.
That kind of pricing pressure against Japanese cars will be aggravated, though only a little in the beginning, by the influx of $6,000-range subcompacts from Korea and Taiwan. Some analysts believe that the trickle of those cars eventually will grow into a river that will push both the Japanese and the Americans out of the economy-car market.
Japanese auto makers now have the capacity to produce about 500,000 cars a year in the United States. By the end of the decade, they will be able to build 1.5 million cars a year in this country. Korean auto makers also are saying that, if their initial sales succeed in the United States, they, too, will build auto plants in this country.
That extra capacity, coupled with imports, eventually could bring down prices on all cars in the United States, said David W. Secrest of Washington-based Worldwide Information Resources Ltd., a consultant group working with Toyota Motor Corp.