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Efforts to ease imports do little; '83 output revs up

New domestic competition and shipping quotas imposed by the Japanese government have so far failed to achieve more than a dent in import car and truck sales in the US.

Sales of 2,325,235 foreign-built automobiles fell only 2.9 percent from 1980 's 2,395,070 -- and no fewer than seven imported makes broke US sales records despite the on-going recession.

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For Nissan and Honda, the 1983-model year will represent a departure

Honda Accord cars and Nissan pickup trucks will go into US production, joining the Volkswagen Rabbit as domestic entries.

Import by import, here is a review of the 1981-82 highlights and preview of each company's plans for 1983 and beyond: Alfa Romeo

Italy's state-owned automaker checked into the US market this past winter with a high-performance sports coupe called the GTV.

The car introduces a 2.5-liter, V-6 engine which is adapted from the 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine of the old Alfetta. Audi

The centerpiece of the 1982 innovations will be the highly acclaimed 4 -wheel-drive Audi Quattro, a sleek $35,000 sedan whose basic silhouette was used to design the Audi coupe introduced in 1981. BMW

BMW's top seller continues to be the 320i, due for a major overhaul in 1983. This is BMW's only 4-cylinder model sold in the US. At the top of the line are the 733i and 633Si coupe. Chrysler/Mitsubishi

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Chryler has imported economy cars, sport coupes, and pickup trucks from Mitsubishi for the last 12 years, but this year will mark a major change in the relationship. Mitsubishi will open its own importing operation in the fall, concentrating on models not sold to Chrysler.

The 1983 Mitsubishi imports will reportedly include a sports coupe called the Cordia and a turbo-diesel series named Mirage.

Chrysler, which owns a 34.2 percent interest in the Japanese carmaker, added a 4-wheel-drive model to the Ram 50 truck for 1982 and got a promise of increased shipments of the Champ, Colt, Challenger, and Sapporo cars. Datsun

Nissan, builder of Datsun cars and trucks, is engaged in an intensive product and name-changing exercise for the US.

This spring Nissan will introduce the Sentra as a replacement for the price-leader 210, with front-wheel drive a feature of the new series. This parallels last year's swap of the 510 for the front-drive Stanza in the small-compact market.

Both the Sentra and the Stanza are prefixed by the corporate name ''Nissan,'' a move that will be repeated next year when the front-drive 310 is updated.

The Sentra was certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as the gas-engine leader in fuel economy, and Nissan hopes to surpass all gasoline and diesel cars when the diesel version of the Sentra debuts later this year. Nissan is also maintaining US sports-coupe sales leadership with the 280ZX, to which a 5-speed overdrive manual transmission has now been added.

The top of Nissan's US lines is the 280ZX turbo, stickered at $17,299.

Nissan boosted US sales last year for the Maxima sedan and coupe, as well as the 200SX. Nissan's new pickup truck plant in Smyrna, Tenn., is scheduled to open late next year. De Lorean

The outlook for the gull-winged sports coupe made in Northern Ireland remains dim after the parent company went into receivership early this year. The British government is looking for a buyer for the De Lorean facilities in Dunmurry, outside Belfast. Fiat/Lancia

Battered by disappointing sales of its sedans in the US, the Italian automaker decided on an extensive retrenchment as 1982 arrived. The Brava sedan was dropped from the line and the lower-priced Strada was limited to a 3-door hatchback model.

Fiat will redirect its energies toward the sports coupe Spider, with a turbo option, and the X 1/9. Corporate headquarters has been moved from Montvale, N.J. , to Hasbrouck Heights, N.J., and the staff cut nearly in half.

Fiat is continuing to import small quantities of Lancia Zagato coupes, having discontinued Lancia sedan sales. Honda

On the eve of launching its Accord car-assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio, this fall, the Japanese car company for 1982 restyled the brisk-selling Accord and added a luxury series called the LX.

The Accord, on which the Prelude sports coupe is based, sells almost identically in numbers with the lower-priced Civic in the US. Isuzu

American Isuzu began import of diesel and gasoline cars and trucks early last year in some parts of the US.

This ''voluntary restraint'' limited Isuzu's shipments to some extent and delayed plans to sell vehicles in more than 22 Southern and Western states until 1984. Nearly 18,000 cars, mostly diesels, were sold by Isuzu in the US during 1981.

American Isuzu confirmed plans at year's end to introduce a rear-engine sports car to the US called the Impulse. Jaguar-Rover-Triumph

Having axed all cars from its US lineup except the luxurious Jaguar, J-R-T is looking to double its ''Jag'' sales this year to about 9,000, from nearly 4,700 in 1981.

The Jaguar market has prospered in line with demand for other upscale Europeans. Models include a 6-cylinder XJ-6 4-door sedan priced at $29,500 and a 12-cylinder XJ-S sport coupe at $32,100.

Deleted from offerings of the US importer for state-owned BL Ltd. were the Triumph and MG coupes and Rover sedan. Mazda

This has been a stand-pat year for Mazda's three series of cars, but a redesigned Sundowner pickup truck has debuted with a diesel-engine option.

Mazda, produced in Japan by Ford partner Toyo Kogyo, enjoyed a brisk sales year in 1981 for its revamped front-drive GLC subcompact series. The 626 compact sedan is due for a front-drive overhaul in 1983, with a turbocharger reportedly in the works for the RX-7 rotary-engine coupe.

Next year Toyo Kogyo will also supply small diesel engines for Ford's US vehicles. Mercedes-Benz

In 1981 this preeminent West German vehiclemaker introduced the highest-priced volume imported car, the 300SEC, priced at $51,956.

More than 63,000 Mercedes cars were sold to Americans last year, breaking all past records in the face of the recession affecting ''down scale'' vehicles.

For 1982, all body styles in the 300 series have received turbo-diesel-engine packages as diesel units have risen to almost 80 percent of all Mercedes sales.

Coming in 1984 will be a ''downsized'' compact, code-named W-201, with rear-wheel drive. Mercedes engineers remain anti-front-drive for their cars. Peugeot

In line with other importers of ''up market'' cars from Europe, Peugeot celebrated its record US sales of 17,000 cars last year by embellishing its high-end car.

The 604 was trotted out in new lines as a turbo-diesel sedan priced at $19, 595. The fashionable turbo-diesel is also offered by Peugeot in its top-selling 505 series, which includes a regular diesel and gasoline engine. Porsche

The sports-coupe half of Volkswagen's Porsche-Audi division is planning a pair of major new models this year under its new American-born president at Porsche headquarters in Stuttgart, Peter W. Schutz.

A $20,000-ish 944 will replace the Audi-engined 924 as Porsche's lowest-priced car in the US.

A cabriolet convertible version of the classic rear-engine 911 is also on tap. Renault

Sports coupes are ''in'' and the French state-owned automaker joined the parade this spring with the Fuego, a rakish front-drive four-seater whose US lineup includes a turbo version.

The Fuego shares the power train of the 18i, a compact sedan and wagon introduced in the fall of 1980 by American Motors, Renault's US ally, of which Renault owns more than 46 percent.

The big Renault-AMC news of the year, of course, will emerge when the Renault Alliance goes into production at AMC's Kenosha, Wis., assembly plant in June. Rolls-Royce

No mention of upscale imports would be complete without reference to the ultras from Rolls-Royce, which also set a US record last year as its 67 dealers sold 1,158 cars.

The Rolls line from England now includes the Bentley Mulsanne, Silver Spirit, Silver Spur, Camargue, and Corniche convertible. The price range? A mere $111, 000 for the Mulsanne and Silver Spirit, up to $162,500 for the Corniche soft-topper. Saab

Performance is a calling card for Sweden's front-wheel-drive 900 sedan. This spring Saab is offering its ''second-generation turbo'' for the 900, the APC. Robert Sinclair, president of Saab-Scania of America, is projecting a 17 percent sales boost for 1982 to a record 17,000 sales. Subaru

This Japanese automaker has risen to fourth place in US import sales, propped by a combination of economy cars and four-wheel-drive power trains for its higher-priced sedans and distinctive BRAT utility vehicle, redesigned for 1982.

Subaru, built by Fuji, was helped by exclusion of 4x4 vehicles from Japan's voluntary quotas on US shipments.

Subaru reportedly may be among the first importers to bring in a minicompact in 1984, the Fuji-built Rex. Toyota

The No. 1 import drove off with ''car-of-the-year'' laurels last year with its newly revamped Celica GT and Celica Supra sports coupes, which mark a determined effort to hold off all threats to its dominant position from the likes of Nissan and stay ''competitive'' with the rash of new domestic rivals.

Toyota is also into an up-market kick with the well-equipped Supra, sticker-priced at $14,598, right in the ballpark of the Datsun (nonturbo) 280ZX.

Toyota's Cressida sedan, restyled last year, is also enjoying a sales improvement in the intermediate segment. Being phased out is the compact Corona sedan, which will not be replaced as such until a new version of Toyota's lone front-drive series, the Tercel, arrives in 1983.

The new front-drive sedan, aimed at Datsun's new Stanza, was debuted in Japan last fall as the FF 120. Toyota is standing pat on its top-seller, the Corolla, and its Starlet stable mate. By 1984, a higher-priced sports coupe is due from Toyota, tentatively named the Soarer. Volkswagen

Still a dominant importer of European cars, VW plunged into the upscale club in the current model year with an extensive reworking of the Scirocco and a replacement of the Dasher by the Quantum.

The Quantum is a roomy five-seater line whose prices start at $10,250 for the base coupe. A four-door Quantum wagon has been introduced and a four-door sedan is due by next fall.

The Scirocco, priced at $10,150, remains a single coupe body style. The notchback Jetta sedan and redesigned Vanagon van now have diesel-engine options. Volvo

An unprecedented spurt in US demand sent this Swedish builder of mid-range high-performance cars into sixth place in import sales early this year, surpassed only by five makes from Japan.

Volvo set a US record last year with nearly 65,000 sales, up a tidy 13 percent from 1980 despite the general automotive recession.

Volvo's prime new offering for 1982 is a GLT turbo wagon with a four-speed overdrive manual transmission (a four-speed overdrive automatic is due later this year). Volvo also revived its six-cylinder DL diesel series for 1982 after a year's lapse because of California emissions difficulties, now resolved.

Not to be outdone by upscale competitors, Volvo will add the $20,000-ish 760 four-door sedan to its US line in November - a wedge-shaped V-6 with a turbo-diesel option.

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