Auto execs to speak on U.S. manufacturing in House hearing
WASHINGTON -- Top executives from Ford Motor Co., American Honda Motor Co. Inc. and Toyota Motor North America Inc. are scheduled to testify next week at a U.S. House hearing on the outlook for U.S. auto manufacturing.
Honda will send Jim Wehrman, a senior vice president at the company's Marysville, Ohio, operations, while Ford will send Joe Hinrichs, executive vice president and president of the Americas. Toyota will likely send Chris Nielson, who leads the assembly plant in San Antonio, Texas, that builds the Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks.
The hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade will take place Wednesday morning. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., who chairs the subcommittee, wants to "examine the current status of auto manufacturing in the United States and discuss opportunities to improve it," the committee said Wednesday.
The executives may also debate the idea of trade negotiations between the United States and Japan, which have provoked an old sore spot between American and Japanese automakers.
Ford has called to exclude Japan from negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a set of talks that include the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim nations. They could lead to the elimination of tariffs on cars and other exported goods.
Speaking earlier this month at the expansion of a Ford engine plant in Brook Park, Ohio, Hinrichs said Japan's government has intentionally weakened the yen to make exported goods more profitable, while keeping foreign-made cars out of the Japanese market. He urged the Obama administration to "send a clear message that any future trade policy with Japan must ensure a level playing field and not come at the expense of American workers."
Those comments have chafed Honda and Toyota, which now build most of their cars in the United States. Those companies want Japan to join the talks, which could lead the United States to a pact that eliminates the current tariffs of 2.5 percent on cars and 25 percent on trucks that are imported from Japan.
Wehrman will discuss how Honda, once a major importer, transplanted much of its operations to the United States, said Edward Cohen, vice president of government and industry relations at Honda. The company says it now assembles more than 90 percent of the cars it sells in the United States within North America.
"In two years, we will become a net exporter, meaning that we will export to Japan more than we import from Japan," Cohen wrote in an email. "We will discuss how and why that growth occurred and what is next for us in this country."
Executives from suppliers may also testify, but none have been confirmed.
The hearing marks one of the first appearances by automotive executives on Capitol Hill since the start of the new Congress. With no executives from General Motors or Chrysler set to testify, the hearing may signify an effort by lawmakers to put their contentious government bailouts of 2008 and 2009 in the rear-view mirror.
Earlier this year, during a briefing on his plans for the new congressional session, Terry told reporters that he wants to take a close look at auto manufacturing, which "really seems to be coming back."
The subcommittee may follow next week's hearing on manufacturers with another one about aftermarket parts suppliers. No legislation is high on the subcommittee's agenda, but it will focus on both Pacific Rim and European Union trade talks, Terry said.
You can reach Gabe Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.