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Auto Exports from U.S. on Rise

USA TODAY - March 7, 2011

Whether it means hawking family-friendly Dodge Journeys in Europe or sporty Chevrolet Camaros in Asia, U.S. auto exports from U.S.- and foreign-owned plants are rising.

A weaker dollar and the perception of higher quality in U.S.-made vehicles are leading to hopes of more vehicle exports, although the figures pale compared with the number of vehicles imported into the U.S.

"We see a pretty favorable trade environment developing," says Steve Biegun, a vice president for Ford Motor.

More than 1.5 million new cars were exported last year, up 38 percent from 2009, Commerce Department data show. Last year's automotive exports were valued at $36.7 billion.

The gain marked a rebound after exports tumbled in 2009 during the global financial crisis. After Canada and Mexico, the next most popular export destinations in 2010 were Saudi Arabia, China and Germany.

Factors that could drive exports higher:

Global industry consolidation As automakers consolidate across borders, they are more willing to swap models to create new opportunity for exports.

For example, Italy's Fiat, which has a controlling stake in Chrysler Group, just unveiled a Dodge Journey crossover at the Geneva Motor Show that will be sold in Europe as the Fiat Freemont.

Unique U.S. technology. Last week, General Motors said it is putting its high-tech marvel, the Michigan-made Chevrolet Volt plug-in car, on sale in Europe for the equivalent of $58,253. It lists for $41,000 in the U.S.

New access. The new trade agreement with South Korea has automakers itching to grab bigger stakes there. GM, which operates there through its Daewoo subsidiary, announced in January that it will sell a variety of U.S.-made models under the Chevrolet name in South Korea, including its Camaro.

Foreign brands' U.S. plants.BMW exported more than 110,000 luxury crossovers last year from its plant in Spartanburg, S.C. This year, exports will grow as a plant expansion comes online. About seven out of 10 of the X3 and X5 crossovers and X6 "sports activity coupes" built there are exported.

Japan's Subaru exported 14,262 vehicles last year, more than doubling exports from its plant in Lafayette, Ind. Most went to Canada. "We've seen a tremendous increase," says Tom Easterday, executive vice president.

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