UK HOPES TO BOOST AUTO PARTS IN THE US

UK HOPES TO BOOST AUTO PARTS IN THE US

British manufacturers of car components are hoping to take full advantage of a shift in strategy by some of the top American automakers.

Industry executives say they see plenty of potential for further growth in the U.S. market, as companies such as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler turn to outside suppliers for many of their auto parts.A full range of British products, incorporating the latest technological advances, will be on display at the Society of Automotive Engineers Congress and Exposition in Detroit Feb. 29 to March 3.

The British products will have to compete with cheaper Asian-manufactured parts that are just beginning to bombard the lucrative international parts markets with Japanese backing.

Japan, pressured by the high value of its currency and calls to reduce its exports to the United States, is shifting industry production to its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Most of the car-parts investment applications received by Thailand in 1987, for instance, were from Japanese manufacturers.

For the British manufacturers, the Detroit exhibition is a unique showcase for their products. The show regularly attracts some 30,000 visitors.

Although the British have been regular exhibitors since 1970, this year is considered particularly important as U.K. companies vie for business from their German and Japanese competitors who are suffering more from exchange rate factors.

In the last two years, sterling has appreciated less against the dollar than the Japanese yen or the German mark. Sterling's present exchange rate against the dollar of $1.75 is not unreasonable, said a spokesman for Britain's Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, although it is slightly above the preferred range of $1.60-$1.70.

U.K. exports to the United States of auto parts and accessories totaled $563 million in 1987, just slightly up on the 1986 level.

The Motor Manufacturers and Traders Society, whose president Sir Godfrey Messervy will address the Automotive Engineers Society's Congress, estimates further growth this year in view of price advantages.

The congress is unlikely to yield any instant results in terms of business, since in some cases it may be three years before orders are placed.

The U.S. market is considered vital for British manufacturers.

If we want to be in the big league in Europe, we need to be in the big league worldwide, one industry spokesman said.

Britain's car exports to the United states are also holding up well, despite the relative strength of the pound, with the top end of the U.S. car market proving less price sensitive than the middle and bottom end of the market.

British car sales in the United States increased by almost 57 percent last year to 41,000 cars, according to the British Automobile Manufacturers Association, compared with 26,200 units in 1986.

Manufacturers such as Aston Martin Lagonda, Jaguar, Lotus and Rolls-Royce are all expecting continued growth in sales this year.

We are looking for 10 percent to 15 percent growth in 1988, predicts Graham Whitehead, president of Jaguar Cars Inc. and also president of the automobile manufacturers association.

Unlike Porsche, the German car company whose cars are associated with the Yuppie lifestyle, British-made luxury and specialist cars tend to be bought by customers whose wealth is somewhat more secure.

Austin Rover, the state-owned U.K. car company that returned to the U.S. market a year ago after a six-year absence, is also pleased with the sales performance of its top-of-the-range Sterling model that was co-designed and developed in cooperation with Honda.