WASHINGTON—Ford Motor Co., which wants the federal government to align U.S. vehicle standards with those of the European Union, has enlisted a longtime ally in its campaign: U.S. Rep. John Dingell, the 29-term Michigan Democrat known for his ardent backing of the domestic auto industry.
Such a deal with Europe would cut Ford's design, engineering and manufacturing costs, Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of the Americas, said April 10 during a U.S. House subcommittee hearing.
It also would help U.S. auto makers stave off market challenges from China and other Asian countries, Hinrichs said.
Hinrichs' comments came during questioning by Dingell, who represents a chunk of Dearborn, Mich., where Ford is based, as well as other parts of southeast Michigan south and west of Detroit.
Dingell said the U.S. auto industry would benefit more from a trade deal with Europe than from a proposed trade deal with Japan through the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks.
"Trade is a tricky subject, and I think here there may be an opportunity to do some good," he said of the European talks.
Ford has called for harmonized regulations to speed its efforts to sell a single lineup around the world. Under current law, car companies are limited in such cost-cutting campaigns because the U.S. and Europe have differing rules that require cars to be re-engineered for each market.
Despite tension between the White House and House Republicans, free trade with Europe may be an area of agreement.
President Barack Obama called for those trade talks during his State of the Union address this year.
U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, the Nebraska Republican who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on commerce, manufacturing and trade, supports Ford's goal.
During his opening remarks, he noted the "positive effects that pursuing a regulatory mutual recognition standard could have on the domestic automotive industry."
Detroit auto makers continue to oppose Japan's inclusion in talks that would create the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade zone.
Japanese car companies must pay a 2 percent tariff on cars imported from Japan to the U.S., and a 25 percent tariff on trucks. Japanese auto makers repeatedly have called to eliminate those tariffs, but Detroit auto makers have resisted.
Japan has no such tariffs. But non-Japanese auto makers still have less than 5 percent of the country's market, which critics blame on other barriers.
Dingell said he opposes Japan's entry in the trade talks until the country opens its markets, "which have been closed tighter than a drum since World War II," he said.
Jim Wehrman, a senior vice president at Honda of America, and Chris Nielsen, who oversees Toyota manufacturing in Texas, also testified April 10 on their expanding operations in the U.S.
Honda, once a major importer from Japan, says it now builds 90 percent of the cars it sells in the U.S. within North America.