Foreign firms tempt US buyers with cars made for economy, luxury, or just plain fun
THE import-car invasion of the United States is picking up speed. By 1990, foreign nameplates could account for half of all new cars sold in North America -- although many will be built right here. In the first eight months of this year, for example, 30.5 percent of all new cars sold in the US were imports, compared with 26.7 percent in the same period during 1985. This may not be all bad news for domestic automakers, who are now playing the game of ``If you can't lick 'em, join 'em.''Skip to next paragraph
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In 1988, Japanese and South Korean automakers will open five new assembly plants in North America: Toyota in Georgetown, Ky., and Cambridge, Ontario; Diamond-Star Motors (Chrysler and Mitsubishi) in central Illinois; Honda in Alliston, Ontario; and Hyundai in Bromont, Quebec.
In 1989, GM and Suzuki will open a joint venture at a new plant in at Ingersoll, Ontario. A year later, Subaru and Isuzu will join the party with a plant in an as-yet-unnamed location in the Midwest.
These will join the Toyota-General Motors joint venture in Fremont, Calif., Nissan in Smyrna, Tenn., and Honda in Marysville, Ohio.
Although sales of luxury European autos are rising, no European manufacturers except Volkswagen and Volvo either make cars in North America or have plans to do so. Volkswagen has built cars at its New Stanton, Pa., plant since 1978 and Volvo operates a small plant in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it now turns out 225 cars a week.
The pressure on Japanese automakers to locate production facilities in North America results from two factors: (1) quotas on the number of cars they may ship to the United States and Canada and (2) the sharp drop in the value of the dollar against the Japanese yen. This has caused the Japanese to raise prices significantly (although they have not passed along the full effect of the dollar's drop) and has made North American plants even more financially attractive.
Here is a model-by-model roundup of the 1987 imports, including cars from their North American subsidiaries (see Page B1 for a look at 1987 American-built cars): JAPAN Toyota
The No. 1 import's first US-built car is the Corolla FX-16, a sporty four-valve-per-cylinder subcompact. The $10,000 FX-16 features the same 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine used in the mid-engine Toyota MR2 sports coupe and zips from zero to 60 miles an hour in a brisk 9.4 seconds.
Toyota introduces four-wheel drive for its minivan. The entry-level Tercel subcompact has been restyled for the third time since 1980, with more aerodynamic lines. A new Supra Turbo will produce 230 horsepower, a 30 hp. ungrade for the top-of-the-line sports car. The compact Camry gets a Cressida-like front end and a peppy 16-valve engine. Nissan
Timed with the opening of the Tennessee plant where it is being built, the Sentra subcompact received a new silhouette last summer in an early '87 introduction. A three-door hatchback Sentra is now available, and the car is three inches longer overall. The midsize Maxima and compact Stanza received similar restyling. Earlier, Nissan updated its Tennessee-built pickup truck with aerodynamic front-end lines. Honda/Acura
Arrival of the midsize Acura Legend and compact Integra last January marked the initial Japanese entry into the luxury sedan market. Honda now builds its subcompact Civic as well as the compact Accord at Marysville, Ohio, and is building auto engines at its motorcycle engine plant in Anna, Ohio.
Honda's goal by 1990 is to sell 1 million cars in the US, which means that another car-assembly plant almost surely will be needed. This will be in addition to an Accord plant opening this winter in Alliston, Ontario. Mazda