WASHINGTON - Domestic content labels, a fixture on the windows of new light vehicles sold in the United States since the 1995 model year, have little effect on consumer purchasing decisions, a federal study of the labeling program says.
Opponents of the labels say the study proves they should be eliminated.
In the study, just 5 percent of 646 people in the market for new vehicles said the labels influenced them. Of those surveyed, 77 percent were not aware the labels exist. But 56 percent of that group, after being told about the labels, said they would use them in future purchasing decisions.
The telephone survey of people who had either purchased a new vehicle in the previous six months or planned to do so in the following three months was conducted in late 1998 by a contractor for NHTSA.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted the study to judge the effectiveness of the labeling program. It cost automakers an estimated $38 million to $48 million to implement in late 1994 and operate through the 1998 model year.
NHTSA said a 1993 government-improvement law and a presidential order require the agency to evaluate the programs it administers. The agency concluded that its options on the content labeling program are:
Find ways to educate the public about the labels so consumers will use them more.
Don't make any changes.
Recommend that Congress repeal the labeling requirement or revise the labels so they provide only the country where each vehicle is assembled.
The labeling law requires that the content information be displayed in plain view on the vehicle. Some manufacturers have combined it with the price and fuel economy information on the window-sticker price label. The study, which was made public March 6, found that the country of assembly is the most valuable piece of label information to consumers. The labels also show the percentage value of U.S. and Canadian parts in the vehicle and the countries of origin for the engine and transmission.
'Not a single person explicitly stated they had used the numerical parts-content score ... to comparison-shop,' the study said.
It was the first government attempt to gauge consumer reaction to the labels, a high-ranking NHTSA official said. The official, who asked not to be named, in part because the Bush administration hasn't yet appointed new agency leaders, said of the program options, 'I couldn't predict what's going to happen.'
AIAM vs. UAW
The Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, representing overseas-based car companies, some with U.S. plants, is ready with its own recommendation.
'The law ought to be eliminated,' said Paul Ryan, the group's director of commercial affairs.
'The study documents what we've been saying for a long time,' Ryan said. 'The law really doesn't provide value commensurate with the cost.'
Steve Beckman, assistant director of government and international affairs at the UAW, said the union favors continuation of the labeling requirements because 'we believe they provide useful information to consumers.'