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What's at stake in U.S.-Japan feud? A lot

Buy American or take a hike.

That's the message from an auto parts manufacturer who makes owners of Japanese-made cars park in a back lot and walk to the front door.

"No Japanese vehicles allowed in this front parking lot," reads a red, white and blue sign announcing the policy at Hi-Stat Manufacturing Co.

"We're an American manufacturer, which seems to be a dying breed," said Anthony Urban, divisional general manager. "We want to tell our people to make the statement, "Buy American.'


Employees as well as visitors are forbidden to park any Japanese-made cars in the front lot outside the company's red, white and blue headquarters.

Urban said the policy, instituted Tuesday, was partly prompted by a recent wave of U.S. sentiment against buying Japanese products.

Japan-bashing has become especially popular in the past six weeks, following President Bush's oft-disparaged trade mission to Japan and some Japanese officials' disparaging remarks about U.S. workers.

But in addition, Urban said, Hi-Stat President C. John Hire was fed up with 10 years of unsuccessful efforts to sell the company's switches and sensors to Japanese car manufacturers.

"We just have really gotten the cold shoulder," Urban said. "We think they want to sell us products and not buy ours."

Urban said the firm's new parking policy has gone over well with most of the approximately 50 employees who use the front lot. Five own made-in-Japan cars.

The company isn't threatening to have anybody's car towed away, but Urban doesn't expect employee resistance anyway.

"I'm not going to fire anybody over this," he said. "I am the boss, and they will do what I say. That American pride thing really gets the juices flowing."

While the sign doesn't spell it out, company policy distinguishes between cars built in Japan and cars built by Japanese companies in the United States. The former are forbidden in the parking lot; the latter are allowed.

Some dealers who sell Japanese cars for a living warn that it isn't always easy to tell the difference. Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda employ tens of thousands of Americans at plants in the United States, while Ford, General Motors and Chrysler sell many cars that are built in Japan, Korea, Mexico and other countries.

"People really need to take a look at where those cars that they're talking about are built," said Jim Gettel, the owner of Gettel Toyota-Daihatsu in Bradenton.

"I own two GM dealerships in Michigan, and I sell Chevrolets up there that are made in Japan," he added. "I would be very disappointed if I drove my Chevrolet to work and I was asked not to park it in the parking lot."