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[DETROIT] Asian automakers are scrambling to ship more sport utility vehicles to the United States to meet strong demand, tapping manufacturing capacity in Japan and South Korea.
The rise in exports to the United States comes as lawmakers in Washington are gearing up to debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a wide-ranging trade liberalisation deal with a dozen Pacific Rim nations, including Japan, that has drawn fire from the United Auto Workers and other American unions worried about losing manufacturing jobs to overseas competition.
South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor Co is rushing to develop a subcompact crossover SUV to expand its lineup, said Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's product planning chief for the US market. The new model will hit US showrooms soon, but not this year, Mr O'Brien told Reuters in an interview on Monday on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show.
Hyundai plans to boost the number of Tucson SUVs it brings in from Korea for the US market to more than 80,000 vehicles this year, Mr O'Brien said. Hyundai sold roughly 63,000 Tucsons in the US market in 2015. "Our Tucson (compact SUV) sales are so good that dealers'top complaint is, 'Why can't you get us more?'" Mr O'Brien said.
Hyundai doesn't produce Tucson crossover SUVs in North America and has always imported those cars into the US market. To boost sales, Hyundai more recently moved to "free up capacity in South Korea" to increase the number of Tucson SUVs brought in, he said.
Separately, Nissan Motor Co Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said the Yokohama-based automaker is moving to ship more Rogue crossover SUVs to the United States from Japan after sales of the model jumped 44 per cent in 2015 to a record high 287,000.
Rogue SUVs sold in the US market consist of those produced here and brought in from South Korea. "Our capacity (for the Rogue) in North America is running at more than 100 per cent," Mr Ghosn said Sunday in Detroit. "We have Rogues coming from Korea, and soon we will have some Rogues coming from Japan."
Nissan imported nearly one-third of all light trucks sold in the United States in 2015, up roughly 20 per cent from 2014. Sales of Nissan sport utilities rose 20 per cent last year from a year earlier, while sales of smaller passenger cars eased 1.8 per cent.
Toyota Motor Corp's US sales arm boosted imported light truck sales by 30 per cent in 2015 from 2014.