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OK, So What’s an Import Car?

May 8, 1991

DETROIT (AP) _ Think of the 1992 Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis and you think of big cars for a big country from an automaker emblematic of America’s industrial muscle.

Symbols of true-blue American motoring, right?

Sort of.

In some halls of government, they’re counted as imports when calculating what’s known as the Corporate Average Fuel Economy. But they’re domestics when figuring sales. Just to muddy things up, the Crown Vic and Grand Marquis are made in Canada.

For a car to count as a domestic vehicle for CAFE purposes, 75 percent or more of its content must be made in the United States or Canada. If it falls under that, it’s a CAFE import, no matter where it’s made.

Some cars sold by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. count as imports for fuel-economy purposes. None of the Japanese automakers’ cars sold in the United States meets the 75 percent rule.

The law says average mileage for an automaker’s domestic and import fleets each must be 27.5 miles per gallon or better.

If either or both fleet averages fall short of the 27.5-mpg standard, an automaker must either use accrued or anticipated credits or pay a fine.

The import-domestic distinction is important for automakers.

If a manufacturer such as Ford has a large car - say, a Crown Victoria - that meets the 75 percent domestic-content rule but gulps gas, the company’s domestic CAFE is reduced. That forces it to pay fines or use up credits.

However, Ford can move the car to the import CAFE list and average the mileage of that model with cars that have far better fuel economy - say, the South Korean-made Ford Festiva, which has a combined highway and city mileage of about 32 mpg. That brings Ford’s import and domestic CAFE lists into compliance with the rule.

That’s exactly what Ford has done with the ’92 Crown Vic and Grand Marquis.

″We will, in order to balance out our CAFE so that it stays above the standard but not substantially above and to ensure that we have a cushion, move the Crown Vic and Grand Marquis to the import fleet,″ said Dave Kulp, Ford manager of fuel economy planning and compliance.

For 1992, the car’s domestic content is about 73 percent, down from 93 percent in the 1991 models. That was done by switching some components, like the fuel tank, catalytic converter and some trim items, to overseas suppliers.

The ’92 Crown Vic and the Grand Marquis, both made at Ford’s St. Thomas, Ontario, assembly plant, have an average fuel economy of about 22 mpg. The ’91 versions averaged about 16 mpg.

Nonetheless, Ford switched them, perhaps concerned that the current popularity of its Lincoln cars will bring its domestic CAFE level far below the magic 27.5-mpg mark.

Matching CAFE lists against manufacturing site lists can result in a crazy quilt of what’s an import and what’s a domestic.

GM counts its Cadillac Allante, assembled in Hamtramck, Mich., as an import, mainly because the body is made in Italy. Other GM cars counted on the import CAFE list are truly made overseas, including the Geo Storm, made by Isuzu in Japan, and the Pontiac LeMans, made by Daewoo in South Korea.

The Plymouth Laser, Eagle Talon and Mitsubishi Eclipse are made at the Diamond-Star Motors Corp. plant in Normal, Ill., which Chrysler owns with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan. Those cars are counted as imports for CAFE purposes and domestic for sales purposes.

The Dodge Stealth and all Plymouth and Dodge Colt models are made in Japan by Mitsubishi and are counted as part of Chrysler’s import CAFE fleet.

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