Final Inspection

Snatching Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

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Score it as a Pyrrhic victory for the U.S. auto industry.

Japan’s decision this week to open up its “cash for clunkers” program to imports from Detroit- might very well boost sales of U.S.-built cars in that country by a handful or so, – at least under the best case scenario.

Unfortunately, the protest U.S. auto makers led over the rather exclusionary sales-incentive program really had little to do with Detroit hoping to move more metal in Japan.

No, what it really was about was raising awareness among Washington policy makers that Japan wasn’t running a fair game, suggesting maybe the U.S. shouldn’t either.

If Tokyo had followed through on plans to restrict U.S. cars from the program under some trumped up emissions-certification technicality, perhaps the next time the opportunity presented itself – whether it be another government-backed sales incentive or how the next set of fuel-economy rules get written – Washington may have decided to skew things just a tad in favor of Detroit.

Any advantage gained on American soil is far more important to the U.S.-based OEs than a 3-figure boost in sales in Japan.

Give Tokyo credit for recognizing there was far more at stake than a few lost sales for the home team if it were to stick to its thinly veiled protectionist Clunkers plan.

For Detroit, which at best exports only a few thousand cars to Japan annually, the removal of the Clunkers barrier may have cost it a chance to pile up some more valuable and much needed political capital at home.

The scoreboard may say U.S. auto makers won this one, but don’t you believe it.

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into WardsAuto.com, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at WardsAuto.com, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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