WASHINGTON-Tire manufacturers, together with car makers and their dealers, hailed the last-minute U.S.-Japan agreement to open Japanese markets to U.S. autos and auto parts. The June 28 agreement narrowly averted the 100-percent tariffs the Clinton administration had threatened to place on 13 Japanese luxury cars, including certain Acura, Lexus, Infiniti, Mitsubishi and Mazda models.
Approximately 200,000 of these cars are sold in the U.S. annually, most of them bearing Bridgestone, Michelin or Goodyear original equipment tires.
Although specific details of the agreement weren't immediately available, the Japanese have agreed to open 200 auto dealerships to non-Japanese autos by the end of 1996 and 1,000 dealerships by the end of 2000, President Clinton said in a speech announcing the agreement.
In addition, Japanese auto-makers have agreed to expand their U.S. production, as well as their purchases of non-Japanese parts, which should mean nearly $9 billion in U.S. parts orders over the next three years, the president said.
``We have done what we set out to do two-and-a-half years ago,'' Mr. Clinton said. ``After 20 years, we have an agreement that will move cars and parts both ways between the U.S. and Japan.''
In a prepared statement, Goodyear said it was ``hopeful that when the details of the agreement are implemented, they will lead to concrete, long-term results that are beneficial to both countries.''
L. Gene Stohler, chairman of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, expressed similar optimism. ``(W)e believe it will ease Japanese government regulations which limit U.S. automotive suppliers' access to the Japanese market,'' Mr. Stohler said.
A spokesman for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. said the company is ``very pleased'' the tariffs were averted, but can't comment on the agreement until more details are available.
The American Automobile Manufacturers Association was jubilant over the pact. ``Everyone wins under this agreement,'' said AAMA President Andrew H. Card Jr. ``American workers will benefit from expanded job opportunities, and Japanese consumers also win because they will enjoy more choices that come with open markets.''
Each $1 billion in increased auto parts exports translates into 15,000 U.S. jobs, according to Mr. Card. There are 1,800 U.S. dealerships currently in Japan, he said, but many of them are ``8 x 10 rooms with brochures. . . . We are looking at adding high-profile, high-volume dealerships.''
The American International Automobile Dealers Association was relieved that the livelihoods of more than 2,000 Lexus, Acura and Infiniti dealers and their more than 80,000 employees were spared. ``For now, we can get back to the business of being in business,'' said AIADA Chairman Kjell Bergh.
``But the long-term problem won't be addressed until the Big Three U.S. automakers make a serious commitment to the Japanese market by designing and building cars specifically for that market,'' added AIADA Executive Vice President Walter E. Huizenga.