When General Motors or Ford or Chrysler makes a profit in China, it all adds to the sum of the carmaker's global profits, and supports future expansion at home and abroad as well as the stock price for millions of Americans who own shares of the automakers through their retirement funds.
On Wednesday, GM announced that its profits slipped 13 percent from July through September because of European and U.S. woes. But GM noted that strong operating profits from China helped cushion the blow. China sales resulted in a $689 million operating profit, almost twice as much as the same three months of 2011, but just a bit more than a third of GM's $1.8 billion operating profit in North America.
There are obvious efficiencies gained by manufacturing in China for China, said Lindland.
"It allows you to hedge against currency fluctuations. It allows you to customize, if you will, the vehicles for the local market. It provides multiple opportunities for a manufacturer," she said. "I was frustrated by the comment from Romney. It was surprising given his history as a very successful businessman to somehow imply that production of a vehicle in China was hurting the U.S. - especially when you look at Jeep, which is capacity-restrained right now."
That means Jeep isn't producing enough vehicles in the United States to match demand, Lindland added, noting that exporting Jeeps to China is probably not a smart option right now. Ironically, Jeep was introduced in China in 1984 by the American Motors Corp., a company once run by Romney's father, George, which was bought by Chrysler in March 1987.
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For the very same reasons that GM makes cars in China, almost every major global car company produces in the United States. Eleven foreign companies have made 3.52 million cars in the United States this year through the end of October, according to data provided by WardsAuto Group, a leading auto sector media group. Honda and Toyota far outpaced the rest, but luxury carmakers Mercedes-Benz and BMW are stepping up their game with production in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Spartanburg, S.C., respectively.
Through the end of October, U.S. light vehicle sales - including cars and light trucks - totaled just under 12 million. Just over half of those vehicles, about 6.6 million, were imported into the United States, and about 4.3 million of those were cars, according to Autodata Corp.'s MotorIntelligence.com.
China doesn't rank among the top destinations for exported U.S. vehicles. In 2011, Canada ranked first for receiving U.S. vehicle exports, followed by Germany, Japan, South Korea and Mexico, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. What little trade in autos there is with China follows a familiar pattern: China's car exports were valued at more than twice as much as U.S. vehicles shipped there, said the ITA.
If imported autos are unwelcome in Ohio and Rust Belt states, it's a different story on the West Coast, where auto imports create thousands of jobs at U.S. ports.
At the Port of Tacoma in Washington state, vehicles and vehicle parts ranked as the top import in 2011, valued at $5 billion. By contrast, vehicles and vehicle parts ranked ninth among all exports through the port, at $293 million. The port expects to handle about 150,000 imported autos this year. China and Hong Kong ranked as Washington state's top trading partners in both imports and exports last year, according to data compiled by the Port of Tacoma.
A report released last month showed that 40 percent of all jobs in the state are now linked to international trade, mainly because of the state's close ties to China.
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