Despite war, makers balk at dual-use ships

WASHINGTON - The automobile industry is starting to feel the heat of war fever.

The House of Representatives has approved a bill with a provision that compels automobile importers to use ships that are built, with federal subsidies, for easy conversion for military cargo.

Import-brand automakers, backed by the Big 3, a dealer group and others, say forcing them to haul on dual-use ships is a bad idea.

"Their rates are uncompetitive, and they could be withdrawn at any time (from commercial service)," said Paul Ryan, director of commercial affairs for the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers. "Businesses can't live with that uncertainty."

Some automakers, such as Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Hyundai Motor Co., even own their own ships through parent or affiliated companies.

The American International Automobile Dealers Association, another opponent, said the provision could mean higher costs and fewer vehicles for dealers and consumers.

Opponents are asking House and Senate negotiators to kill the provision when they meet to resolve differences between versions of the bill passed by the two chambers. The Senate bill does not have the provision.

Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., added it to the House bill, called a defense authorization, to promote construction of more ships to carry military cargo.

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