It has not been all wine and roses for the international automakers as they moved production to the United States. Consider these political headaches:
1. Content legislation. If shoppers knew how much of that Honda Civic was imported, they would not buy it. Such was the reasoning behind the American Automobile Labeling Act, requiring a window sticker on new vehicles listing the countries of origin of their major components. The outcome: Honda and Acura's market share rose to 10 percent last year.
2. The trade imbalance. To attack Japan's trade surplus with the United States, Washington zeroed in on auto parts. In 1988, the Japanese bought $4.9 billion in U.S. parts. In 1994, they bought $20 billion, but Japan's trade surplus held steady at $22 billion. One reason: In 1988, Americans were buying $12,000 imported Toyota Camrys. In 1995, they were buying imported Lexus LS 400s at four times the price.
3. After the aftermarket. In 1995, President Clinton threatened to impose sanctions on imported Japanese luxury cars because U.S. firms were having difficulty selling replacement parts to Japanese consumers. Japan agreed to some changes in domestic vehicle laws and regulations.
4. Foreign Trade Zones. This arcane federal incentives program lets automakers save millions of dollars a year by paying less customs duty. But the program is closely regulated by the federal government. In 1992, U.S. supplier interests unsuccessfully tried to block Nissan from receiving expanded Foreign Trade Zone benefits to launch its U.S.-made Altima. Their argument: The Altima would erode the Big 3's family-car market share, and the U.S. government should not subsidize its production. The argument sent a chill toward Toyota, which also was planning to launch its big Avalon - along with any other international automaker that might have been contemplating an entry into a Big 3-dominated segment. The argument failed. Six years later, Toyota is building a U.S. minivan and preparing to build a full-sized pickup, Mercedes is building one U.S. sport-utility and Nissan is planning another.
5. MVMA-to-AAMA. The Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association suddenly uninvites Honda, Nissan and Volvo from the club in 1992. The group is renamed the American Automobile Manufacturers Association.
6. NAFTA. U.S. industry lobbyists press for a NAFTA requirement that vehicles must contain 75 percent North American material content in order to move across the borders duty-free. The compromise: 50 percent.