by: Gary Hoffman, AOL Autos

    In sports as in international trade, it’s the raw figures in the record books that can be the toughest to swallow.

    Imagine the Philadelphia Phillies annihilating the Tampa Bay Rays 4,000 to 3 in the final game of the 2008 World Series, and you have something like the U.S. automakers’ success rate in breaking into the Japanese and Korean markets.

    It is as though the Arizona Cardinals fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers last February without rushing more than a couple yards or Venus or Serena Williams dropped a U.S. Open match without returning a single serve.

    In August, only 192 Fords and 63 Chevrolets and were sold in Japan, roughly the same number as a year earlier, according to the Japanese Association of Automobile Importers. And over the last decade, things have actually gotten worse: The figures were 359 for Ford and 793 for Chevrolet in August 1999.

    In 2008, Chevrolet exported exactly one vehicle to Japan for every 400 Toyotas exported to the U.S. Throw in the Japanese firm’s production at its U.S. transplants, and the ratio is even more lopsided: Chevrolet sold one vehicle in Japan for every 1,300 Toyotas sold in the U.S. 

    Ford sold about 2,500 vehicles in Korea last year, compared to nearly 330,000 Hyundai and Kia vehicles imported to the U.S.

    Variations in consumer tastes alone can’t possibly account for differences of that magnitude, even though Asian consumers tend to buy smaller cars than Americans do, critics of U.S. trade policy say. Nor do differences in U.S. and Asian quality levels, when there are any.

    While Korea and Japan no longer directly restrict U.S. imports, they do put up barriers to them, said Chris Vitale, president of a Michigan-based group, FairImage.org, which promotes open trade in the auto industry.

    "For all intents and purposes, the Japanese market is closed to everyone," Vitale said.  "No one gets a foothold."

    Japan and Korea don’t sell many cars to each other either, as you might expect from two automotive giants facing each other across the Sea of Japan like wary sumo wrestlers.

    Korea sold 502 cars to Japan last year. One was a Kia and 501 were Hyundais, according to the Japanese importer group. Japanese automakers did somewhat better in Korea, selling about 21,000 vehicles there, out of a 1 million-plus market. 

    Vitale and other U.S. critics of Japan and Korea point to "barriers to entry" -- obstacles that may be more effective than tariffs and quotas. They include inspections, complicated distribution systems and taxation. Ironically, U.S. imports to Japan have declined even as more formal, direct barriers like quotas have come down.

    Complaints flow in the other direction, too. The Korea Institute for International Economic Policy has contended that U.S. trade complaints "are closely tied to the strategy of the U.S. auto industry of keeping its competitors around the world in check."

    The mid-1990s was a comparative heyday for U.S imports into Japan. Ford had some small successes selling Taurus station wagons and Lincoln Town Cars, two vehicles that local producers could not match. VIPs especially liked the Town Car, said Don Whitehouse, a retired Ford executive with extensive experience in Japan.

    The Mustang was a special object of fascination for Japanese consumers, too. "A lot of people saved up money to buy a Mustang GT, and then paid cash for it," the former quality manager for Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant said.

    Whitehouse was on the front lines of Ford’s efforts to push its imports through a tough inspection gauntlet in Japan, making 13 trips to that country in the 1990s and early this decade.

    The audit process was brutal, he recalls. Inspectors would check off every defect, even if it were well within generally accepted tolerance, Whitehouse said.

    "They gun-sighted everything with magnifying glasses and flashlights to see if it had to be repaired," he said. Then Ford teams would correct them, often at great expense. The expense drove up the price of the cars for Japanese consumers.

    Strangely enough, Ford of Japan itself hired the inspectors who put U.S.-made cars through the wringer, turning the local subsidiary into Whitehouse’s chief antagonist.  In addition, Japanese government auditors checked the inspectors’ work at regular intervals, Whitehouse said.

    The auditors were even tough on vehicles that Ford had given special prepping for the Japanese market, Whitehouse said.

    He said he had some of Japan’s top U.S. sellers dismantled and inspected in the U.S. and then compared them to Ford models during that period.

    "The vehicles we were sending to Japan were superior to the vehicles the U.S was getting back from Japan," he said. "I don’t think it was the customers who had problem with our products."

    No amount of argument could persuade Ford of Japan’s Japanese executives to relax the standards, he said. They evidently considered it their mission to block vehicles with the smallest, most inconsequential defects, he said.

    Today U.S. automakers may not regard the Japanese market as worth much of an effort. The market has an aging population, and automobile ownership is sometimes a difficult proposition in this crowded country. Not to mention the fact that it’s also the home turf of some of the most competitive automakers in the world.

    "Our sales in Japan are negligible because it doesn't make sense to import them, and we do not have production facilities there," said John McDonald, a General Motors spokesman in Detroit.

    China is another story, however. GM already sells about 150,000 cars a year in China -- or 50 times what it sells in Japan.  And execs’ mouths water at the prospect for growth there.

    GM also has production capability in Korea through its ownership of Daewoo, just as Ford indirectly has with its stake in Mazda in Japan. This involvement may prove more valuable long-term to the automakers than doubling or tripling their tiny shares of the Korean and Japanese import markets. 

    Ford once held a substantial 33 percent Mazda stake, although it sold off about 20 percent shortly the financial crisis hit the industry last year.  GM acquired a controlling stake in Daewoo in 2001, and has been selling more than 100,000 locally produced Daewoos a year in Korea. GM also sells more than a million of the cars in global markets, primarily under the Chevrolet brand.

    And there is at least the prospect of more equal trade with Korea. In 2007, Korea and the U.S. negotiated a free trade agreement that would reduce many of the country’s non-tariff barriers.

    The agreement, which still needs ratification by Congress, would also start phasing out higher taxes for cars with engine displacements of more than 2.0 liter engines. It also would ban auditing the tax returns of Korean citizens who buy expensive imported vehicles --  a practice that appeared to target importers 

    Vitale said U.S. exports to Europe should be greater, too. But many countries place extra taxes on U.S. vehicles, even though they bear the full weight of American taxation through income and corporate taxes.

    In any case, the sales figures for U.S. vehicles abroad don’t always correspond to their appeal to customers, Vitale said.

    He points to a lively international "gray market" taking advantage of loopholes in import laws. The turbo diesel version of the Dodge Ram, for example, has found a home on farms in Finland, for example.

    There is simply no European-built vehicle that functions like an American pickup for snow-plowing and many other tasks, Vitale notes.

    "Imagine how many more of them could be sold with a real dealership."

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    1 - 20 of 411 Comments
    webe4parkers Dec 11, 2009 7:44 AM
    I just had to chime in on this one, signed up just for this... The UAW is full of lazy workers!!! can not even put bolts in right. I was a GM guy until GM sold me a junk $34,000 4x4 truck *********** failed to stand behind it... Never owned anything else, never went to any other dealership....sure they tried to fix all 134 documented failed parts in the truck. Flaws ranged from heater control knobs that would not function( took the dealer for ever to fix, one dealer even told me that the controls were not supposed to do anything???? what the f???) to a transmission that only worked when it felt like it ( kind of like a GM UAW employee, IMO) this truck had interior panels falling off when the door was shut, rear door windows that never sealed up that would leak air and water :-O.... rattled like a baby's toy!!! After countless of hours between returning the truck to several dealers for repair and countless hours talking to service reps about the truck....I finally hired a lawyer....ding, ding!!!! GM was ready to buy back the piece of crap they built and sold me, charged me $0.10 cents a mile for mileage driven( more than half of the miles were to the dealer and back for repairs and the miles the mechanic put on while test driven the junk truck) I took the deal...GM did replace the truck just minutes before I was ready to start shooting the GM fools I had been dealing with for two years.... Got the new truck and held my breath...It was a better truck than the first...Only because I drove like 20 trucks before I settled on the on with the least rattles and the one that looked like the body panels were on straight, All of the 20 trucks had defective parts that needed repair...ALL!!! everyone of them. But I had to take one... The new truck had its share of problems but not quite as bad as the first one...the thing was already rusting bad in 6 years on the rocker panels...ouch!!!!GM left a sour taste in my mouth. I kept the truck until this last summer and I bought a TOYOTA....no rattles, no bugs!!!! its a beast compared to the junk GM's. The kicker here!!!! GM messed up, I had never owned anything but GM. I got married to my wife and made her sell her import and buy a GM....thats a GM guy... but since the 1999 junk GM that I had to hire a lawyer to protect my rights, I have since bought these cars.... 2003 honda pilot...awesome car!!! not one defect...We gave it to my mom with 160,000 miles and still runs like a champ 2004 jeep wrangler....love it, will keep it forever. no problems.... 2009 honda accord for my 16 year old daughter....nice ride, not one defect at 25,000 miles so far...not one 2010 toyota avalon...very nice ride...12,000 miles...perfect so far, not one trip to the dealer...the floor mat problem? no way this mat get on the pedals...no way. And finally...2010 Toyota Tundra 4x4....The big 3 should be terrified of this truck....It is well built...with a payload heavier than the big 3, tows more....bigger brakes, rotors, wheels, gears, engine, better fuel economy and looks nicer... and cost less!!! As for the guy that claims you cant have a Toyota in the country? your crazy. I'm a old stone mason that works trucks hard...Its the big big 3 that cant handle the load!!! from ford, dodge & GM, I've seen them all work and fail over and over....its the imports that keep on going....How many of these newer big 3 trucks will last 20 years? none!!!! but the toyotas will still be working!!!! My Toyota is a truck...a real truck, tough as nails!!!! something the big 3 could do if they wanted too, but they dont!!! What really gets me is the bail out!!! Now I have to help support the lazy UAW workers and their family's retirement??? what the *%^$#@$%^ GM should have been allowed to fail..PERIOD.
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    rileyfordinc Nov 17, 2009 2:01 PM
    The unfair trade policies enacted by these countries who, like Japan, attacked the U.S. (Pearl Harbor) in one way, shape or form are supported by the U.S. Government. There is no legislation demanding that foreign made or supported vehicles be sold/imported on the same ratio with domestic made or supported vehicles. As with all industries, electronics, etc. the foreign countries like Japan, etc. can produce at a cheaper rate making their product more appealing in these trying economic times. The end result is that Americans end up paying more for these products in the long-run because lack of demand for American products leads to unemployment in American businesses. Some of these vehicle lines, Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, may be American made, but where do you think all of the marginal profit goes? Back to the mother country, Japan, Korea, etc. How is it that the United States of America can retaliate on a country's abuse of OUR Country and then rebuild that country only to have it overpower us economically? Take a look around, the United States is in a recession/depression and these foreign countries are living the good life on our hard earned and lately hard to come by dollars! It's time that the United States Government, that which belongs to the people of the UNITED STATES start looking out for number one instead of rushing to the aid of all these foreign countries. We need to demand fair trade, not one-sided acceptance. WAKE UP AMERICA!!! We Americans can eliminate the recession by not supporting Korea and Japan by not buying their products.
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    wshoj06 Oct 27, 2009 9:59 AM
    Larry Lewis your comment shows the idiocy of the American public. I worked for 30 years at the Jeep plant and when we were AMC, got it little AMC we started building right hand drive vehicles in 1986. We weren't the first Auto company to do this. You really know what your talkin about.
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    fairimageorg Oct 25, 2009 8:42 AM
    @LarryLewis: Read through the comments, the "steering wheel" issue is addressed. (In depth) It should go without saying that those in the auto industry knows which side of the road is used in Japan. All of the domestic three make right-hand drive models, as do the Europeans, which account for about 2% of the Japanese market.
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    larrylewis Oct 24, 2009 9:56 PM
    One thing the article did not point out is that in Japan they drive on the "lefthand" side of the road. So their steering wheels are on the the right. It is my understanding that none of the american car mfgr.s would tool righthand drive cars for that market. Why would a typical Japanese driver buy a car with the wrong configuration? How many cars would Honda sell here if the only mfgr.d righthand drive cars for the US market? Many of the sales were for specialty cars like towncars and muscle cars something they could not otherwise get there. Would the market barriers have prevented sucess if they actually designed and built a car for that market? We may never know.... because they didn't. But the Japanese sure did and hence the sucess of Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc.
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    realgee26 Oct 24, 2009 9:07 PM
    I'm not going to come on here and throw stones about what you UAW haters do for a living or in your spare time. All the adages in the world could not convince you that your opinions are based on untrue rumors and hearsay. Just do a little research before you let your politics and the barbershop gossip rule your opinions. I know everything is up to individual interpretation, but to say that the UAW got the bailout money and that the tax payers took over UAW retirement is ridiculous. Every one of you haters will continue your ignorance party until the truth is right in your face. Your stories are good and your misinformation entertaining.
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    wmtarin Oct 24, 2009 5:27 PM
    I have read a lot of stupid comments here. Many of you do not think about what you are saying and many of you did not read all the words in the article. I will only add that almost all cars and trucks are good for specific purposes and that purpose depends on what you are buying the vehicle for. If you are a farmer or rancher, the chances of using a Toyota or Nissan are nearly negative. Imagine a Toyota or Nissan pulling a large trailer full of cattle or pigs or horses. You do not see it here in the midwest. Imagine a Toyota or Nissan pulling a trailer loaded with five or six of those huge round bales of hay. You do not see it here in the midwest. Cannot be done. Electric cars or trucks for a farmer or rancher; what a joke. American cars are great depending on what you use them for and how well you maintain the vehicle. Small cars like Toyota, Nissan, Mazda, VW, Volvo, etc. are really not for country folk unless you just need a car for transportation to get you to the big city. The problem there is that in most rural areas, you will only find dealers and service centers for GM, Ford and Chrysler. The cities are the foreign cars heaven where people drive 1-25 miles a day to and from work with side trips for groceries and fun places in town thinking they are saving the environment. The foreign cars are not the only ones with great gas mileage. GM has most beat in that arena. Read the specs. Ford is doing good also, but Chrysler is having the worse problems with high mileage. If you read the article all the way through and understand the words that are presented, it discusses the disparities between the countries as to the imports and exports. It is simply not equal. I really liked the comment about Finland farmers liking the Dodge Ram. That speaks well of their understanding how American trucks are better performers for the job at hand. Personally, I think that the GM trucks and Ford trucks are much more suited for farm and ranch work, but that is a matter of opinion. Don't take me wrong, I see the usefulness of the Asian or European vehicle, but they are not for everyone, and saving a couple of dollars a week or day by driving those foreign vehicles does not necessarily make them better. Also, why do people trade them in for a newer model every 2-3 years while keeping the American car for a much longer period of time. Saving gas is not the only means to save the environment. How about everyone quit drinking water, soda, sports drinks, etc out of plastic bottles and filling our landfills for eternity while cruising in their Asian or European vehicle. I have family members who want to save the planet by driving a Toyota, but will drink cases of plastic bottled commercial tap water every week. Must be some logic to that somewhere.
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    wshoj06 Oct 24, 2009 5:04 PM
    I don't understand all the America bashing. We are the only country that continually bash ourselves. I worked automotive for my entire career and yes just like any other business there are problems. I remember have to go and look at a car that needed repair in Baltimore where I met our regional rep. He was from England working here. We went and look at the vehicle and corrected the issue for the dealer. After we had lunch at talked about a number of different things including how he liked living here as opposed to England. He explained to me how much he loved living here but related how he couldn't understand all us American constantly complain and degrading our country. He said every American should have to live in a forign country for a year so we could appreciate what we have. As for this article the write is explaining to you Stupid people what is true, Japan and Korea are not the only countries doing this Australia for example more than doubles the price of our vhicles. The hoops we must jump through to supply cars to other countries is ridiculous. My favorite was the group from China who was in my plant to see our standards to make sure our vehicles were safe enough to sell in China. They were here at the same time we were rejecting all the toys from China for lead content. But hey lets bash us American workers as this is the fasionable thing to do. When we are a third world country thanks to sending all these good jobs away remember when you get into you car from Japan or Korea that the taxes paid by the Japanesse or Korean work will help support your country. Oops I forgot they don't pay taxes here or SSI or buy groceries at the local store. Idiots
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    cbb1941 Oct 24, 2009 5:03 PM
    GOVERNMENT MOTORS: Never dreamed I would see such a farce happen in my life time. At sixteen, got my first car. A 1947 Chevrolet Fleet line coupe. Had a slant six with a short stroke stick on the column, all black with lots of chrome. My twin brother and I felt we were in tall cotton; I suppose we were. Thank goodness for the rise at the drive-in. That assisted us in getting the car jump-started. That's one advantage in having a twin brother, we took turns. Great little car, we just couldn't afford a new battery. :) In the 50's and 60's, I drove Chevys & Fords. Really cool colors inside & out. Did I mention, lots of beautiful heavy chrome; inside & out. During that time all the cars were really classy. No two looked alike, imagine that. We felt spoiled with our cars, pride of ownership, riding and sitting tall. Oh yeah, you had to have your left elbow and forearm resting on the window sill. Don't forget the fuzzy dice, hanging from the rear view mirror. Ok, ok, I'll move on. FastForward: My little car today looks just like 3-7 others on the road. No riding tall, no real pride of ownership. Maybe, if I could afford a top shelf designer ride. Quite a few years now, maintenance has been killing me. If you try and keep a car for 7-9 years, you will pay for it at least two more times. Most people stay loyal to a couple of different brands. Slowly, over a period time they begin to realize their nice shiny cars just aren't holding up, maintenance visits more frequently, repair costs going up. Then one day, you realize, I'm driving a piece of crap! Have been for quite a while and it's not going to get any better. CAR CZAR: Oh Boy! Who knew? For starters, most of the same people who helped us get to this point, are the only ones who benefited. For the most part, I'm talking about the forty-seven percent of the people who do not pay taxes! Trust me, I'm not forgetting about the President's and Congress' for the past fifty-nine years or so, that have been destroying the American way of life. Financial crisis, How? We have the Treasury Department, SEC, and numerous other departments and agencies that over see and check and double check. That's the only job they do. WTF! UAW: Theres is no place to start or end with this pile of dog squeeze! They got bail-out money and we also picked up their retirement fund. This makes me vomit in my mouth. Their pay and retirement had been set between Ford and the UAW. They didn't ask the taxpayers for any advice or want any. But these Mothers Fu$kers will take taxpayers money without hesitation. None of them have an ounce of pride or shame. Anyone is welcome to respond to any of my post. Except, the last two lines. Because, I can read it now, but they got family and kids. Us taxpayers have family and kids. Enuf Said!!! President Obama and his approach to foreplay! Brace yourself, America!!!!!!!
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    fairimageorg Oct 24, 2009 4:04 PM
    I don't think anyone has demanded you "buy American". I think the point of the article was to make you aware of restrictions to US trade.
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    mmit0126 Oct 24, 2009 3:52 PM
    Oh, I find some fault in someone saying that "AMERICAN PEOPLE THE GREATEST NATION IN THE WORLD!!" Our mortality rate is lower than many countries; our education levels are lower; our accident rate is higher; our crime rate is higher than soooo many countries; our prisons have the most population than many other countries' prisons put together; more than even ASIA which has many more millions of people than us. I'm a Vietnam Veteran and not living off of taxpayers' money; I have a great job, but, I would not brag that we have the best of everything. Don't get me wrong, I still love this country, but we have lost respect of many nations, why? Is it because of our greed, brashness, impoliteness, the "me, me, me" attitude?
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    mmit0126 Oct 24, 2009 3:46 PM
    By the way, some BMWs and Toyotas are built in AMERICA!
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    mmit0126 Oct 24, 2009 3:44 PM
    I understand what the "buy American" and loyal to your country means, but, how can you be loyal to crappily built cars? I really tried! I had Cadillacs, Mercury station wagons, Buick LeSabres, all upper class cars and they always broke down, even with my following routine maintenance and better than normal oil changes. The cars rode nice, but the engines in all the cars broke down regularly! I switched to BMW's and they are more reliable, have better handling in emergency situations and have a HIGH resale value! The Cadillac that I purchased years ago, it's value dropped like a rock! How do you accept that?
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    brianchristian Oct 24, 2009 3:38 PM
    Please, you can leave your union bashing at the door. Unions protect the hourly workers, but they do not make decisions on the business model of the company. When the big three decided to sit back and start making crap cars, do you think they sought the UAW's ok? I think not. They developed a business plan reliant upon people buying a new car every 3 to 5 years. So instead of making a long generation of vehicles that could be constantly refined, they decided to have a flashy new look every three years and to hell with whether or not it is a quality vehicle. Toyota and Honda could charge more for a vehicle and still outsell our big three because people trust their name. Until the big three learn this they will continue to go down the hole no matter how long ppl scream BUY AMERICAN. I will buy american vehicles just as soon as I can be assured that I won't be buying a big steaming dog turd again.
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    bboknows Oct 24, 2009 3:34 PM
    Chrysler is now using a concept called WCM World Class Manufacturing this concept is a concept that we took to Japan after the war to rebuild them, a concept that we showed them. In this concept it is about improving the jobs by elimating waste so that we can bring all work back to the company and stop the out sorsing of oll the work that should be done by the american people
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    sjmarkets Oct 24, 2009 3:23 PM
    Even Americans dont buy American cars, and you expect Japanese to buy American cars.As long UAW produce ******* still low quality pieces of garbage.Sometimes you have to be patriotic but yuo have face reallity.
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    bboknows Oct 24, 2009 3:04 PM
    People in other countries don't buy American cars because they are loyal to the country they live in. Americans need to stop buying anything that isn't made in the USA and start taking pride of the fact that you have the privledge of living in the best country in the WORLD!!! If you don't like that fact then I personaly love to put your ass on a boat and send you to any other country of your choice and you can leave all of your AMERICAN privledges and FREEDOM here in the USA!!!!!!!! Its time to start taking pride in our COUNTRY and work together and take it back from anyone that tries to take anything away from us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I would rather walk then drive a car not made in the USA by the UAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! If we don't work together and get it together we're all going to lose it all!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The way our country is being run now we're all going to be wearing grey and have no FREEDOM we need to get people in our goverment that want to stop all the corruption and pull OUR COUNTRY back together and keep us , THE AMERICAN PEOPLE THE GREATEST NATION IN THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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    fairimageorg Oct 24, 2009 2:33 PM
    The Steering Wheel Argument:---------commentators never fail to point out, the Japanese drive on the left -- and Detroit, it is alleged, makes virtually no cars with the steering wheel correctly positioned for Japan. As the author Pat Choate has pointed out, this is a classic piece of nonsense. Why? Because the Detroit Three have always operated large subsidiaries in Europe whose products are available in both left-hand-drive and right-hand-drive versions. As the European subsidiaries' models have been systematically shut out of Japan, it would hardly make sense for the Detroit Three to invest the necessary several hundred million dollars to establish production lines in their home factories to serve a Japanese "open market" that exists only in the minds of the more intellectually-challenged members of the American press. ------------ The right-hand drive argument is fallacious also in a different sense in that many Japanese buyers of foreign cars -- indeed often a majority -- actually prefer the steering wheel on the "wrong" side. (Why? Because it betokens a foreign -- and, given Japanese conditions, an expensive -- car. Basically American-configured cars have snob value, particularly in the case of larger cars. But, of course, if the cars are not allowed in, they can't be bought.) -------- All this notwithstanding, the steering wheel argument keeps turning up like a bad penny. It is a particular favorite of right-wing commentators and indeed, as far as the Wall Street Journal's editorial page is concerned, no discussion of global car industry competition is complete without a stern dressing down for Detroit for allegedly failing to ascertain which side of the road the Japanese drive on.
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    fairimageorg Oct 24, 2009 2:30 PM
    World trade is more than ever essential to world peace," stated the 1960 Democratic Party platform. "We therefore must resist the temptation to accept remedies that deny American producers and consumers access to world markets and destroy the prosperity of our friends in the non-Communist world."-------- President Kennedy (D) links (our giveaway) trade policy to anti-communist sentiment. ----------- FairImage.org
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    fairimageorg Oct 24, 2009 2:29 PM
    All problems of local industry pale into insignificance in relation to the world crisis," he declared. It was vital that the trading system allow "backward people to make a decent living ... [or else] in the long run we must fall prey to the communistic attack." --------- President Eisenhower (R) links (our giveaway) trade policy to anti-communist sentiment. ----------- FairImage.org
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    Why do Japanese car companies sell so many cars in America, yet the opposite is almost never the case? American car companies fall short when it comes to trade exports.


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