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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ad campaign urges motorists to Buy American

By Kortney Stringer
Detroit Free Press

Jimmie Vandegrift, a Monroe, Mich., resident who has never bought a foreign car, thought about buying a Honda Civic when her lease is up this October.

But an ad encouraging Americans to buy vehicles by Detroit automakers has her reconsidering.

"It's the only foreign car I would consider because of its gas mileage," said Vandegrift, who drives a Mercury Monterey minivan. A Civic sedan gets up to 40 miles per gallon on the highway. "Unless I absolutely fall in love with the Civic and say, 'Wow this is the greatest car I've ever been in,' I won't buy it."

New ads with a Buy American message have some car buyers talking and that's what the creator of the $1 million ad campaign intended.

Level Field Institute, a Washington, D.C., group of retirees of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler with some financial backing from Ford began running TV commercials on May 11 in Washington, Detroit and parts of California, Texas and Alabama, as well as newspaper ads in the nation's capital.

The group's campaign comes at a time when Detroit automakers are fighting to stop market share loss in the United States their biggest market. For 2006, as of April, GM, Ford and Chrysler had 56.5 percent of the U.S. market, compared with 58.8 percent a year ago.

Level Field said its Web site, www.levelfieldinstitute.com, has attracted both supporters and naysayers.

The group said it launched the ads on networks such as Fox and CNN only in certain areas to reach policymakers and those directly affected by the auto industry who can spread the message to others, but plans to run them in other areas of the United States later.

"We're trying to start a dialogue," said Jim Doyle, a former Clinton administration Commerce Department official who founded the group.

Level Field said its ads counter the perception that foreign automakers such as Toyota and Hyundai, which aggressively tout their U.S. investments in their marketing, are as good for the U.S. economy as Detroit's automakers.

The TV spot shows a man comparing the contributions of domestic and import automakers to the U.S. economy and ends with the tagline, "What you drive, drives America."

"It seems like every automaker these days claims their cars are made in America," says the man, adding that U.S. automakers employ eight of 10 auto workers, or 400,000 people, who support 4 million other U.S. jobs.

Mike Moran , a spokesman for Ford the only Detroit automaker to give Level Field a financial donation said Ford typically focuses its ads on its vehicles, but thinks the Level Field ad has a worthwhile message.

"We believe this is important information to share, so we're glad to support them in sharing that information," he said.

Conversely, Timothy C. MacCarthy, president and CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, takes exception to the ads.

He said foreign automakers directly employ 103,000 Americans and create 1.8 million U.S. jobs in dealerships and supplier industries nationwide and invest $36 billion in research and development and manufacturing facilities.

Indeed, foreign automakers are expanding in the United States, while Detroit's automakers are cutting tens of thousands of jobs and closing plants.