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U.S. content labels for cars sought Mikulski plans to introduce bill; reaction is mixed.


The "Buy American" movement sweeping the nation took a new turn yesterday when Maryland Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski announced she will introduce legislation requiring all cars sold in the United States to carry a label listing the percentage of American parts and labor.

Calling the proposed legislation a "consumer bill," Ms. Mikulski said that its aim was to eliminate the confusion over when a car is U.S.-made and when it is an import.

"People who want to buy American don't know how to do it," the Democratic senator said. "They hear that some Mercurys are built in Mexico. Some Dodges are built in Korea. Some Hondas are built in Ohio, and some Mitsubishis are built in Illinois."

"This is not Japan-bashing," Ms. Mikulski said at a news conference held at the United Auto Workers Local 239 building on Oldham Street, not far from the General Motors assembly plant on Broening Highway.

"We're not telling the consumer what to buy," she said. "This bill would just let them know what they are buying." Ms. Mikulski, who is running for her second term this year, added that it was also an attempt to preserve the jobs of U.S. autoworkers.

Rachel Kunzler, a member of Ms. Mikulski's staff, said she was not aware of any similar bills introduced in recent years.

John Steele, another Mikulski spokesman, said the legislation "is motivated by the needs of American consumers, not politics."

"It's a common sense bill that deserves to become law," he said. "Folks can walk into a showroom and can tell the gas mileage a car gets, how much the AM-FM cassette costs and know what the whitewalls cost. But they have no idea what percentage of American parts and labor went into making the car."

Reaction to Ms. Mikulski's proposal was mixed. William E. Kidd, vice president of Timonium Toyota-Volvo said, "The more information the consumer has the better."

The Big Three domestic automakers -- GM, Ford and Chrysler -- issued statements yesterday saying that although they were not familiar with the details of the proposal, they thought it would help consumers.

"We would be thrilled to report the domestic content and labor in our cars, especially if everyone else had to do it," said Chrysler spokesman John Guiniven.

George C. Nield warned, however, that such legislation could spark a protectionist movement abroad. Mr. Nield is president of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers Inc., a trade group representing more than 21 foreign auto manufacturers selling cars in this country.

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