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No. 364, January 2000

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American Companies in Japan


One way or the other, GENERAL MOTORS CORP. is determined to claim 10 percent of automotive sales in Asia in 2004. Increasingly, the "other" means to this goal involves capital and technical alliances with Japan's stumbling second-tier vehicle builders. In late 1998, the world's top car and truck manufacturer upped its stake in SUZUKI MOTOR CORP. to 10 percent as part of a plan for the minivehicle maker to help it design and develop small, affordable and rugged vehicles for developing markets in Asia and elsewhere. Just months later (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 352, January 1999, p. 29), GM decided to tap more thoroughly the truck and diesel engine expertise of even longer-time affiliate ISUZU MOTORS LTD. That move was accompanied by an increase in the multinational's ownership to 49 percent. Now, GM has agreed to acquire a 20 percent interest in FUJI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD. at a cost of roughly $1.4 billion. This capital infusion, to be accomplished through the purchase of new shares, is scheduled to be completed in early March 2000. It will make GM the top shareholder in the producer of the Subaru nameplate without requiring Fuji Heavy Industries, which had been actively searching for a foreign partner since last summer, to cede any management independence, top executives of the two companies say. On the technical side, the tie-up with GM could help Fuji Heavy Industries with environment protection-related technologies and in other ways that still are under discussion. However, the initial thrust of the alliance will be the design and production of small and midsize sport-utility vehicles and what the partners call crossover vehicles. Here, GM will be able to draw on FHI's world-recognized strengths in all-wheel-drive technology and continuously variable transmissions, which allow vehicles to accelerate smoothly and attain greater fuel efficiency. Among other possibilities for collaboration that project teams from the two companies are exploring is having Fuji Heavy Industries build vehicles for sale with a GM badge or selling GM products in Japan through its affiliate's dealer network.

Now that it owns the Jaguar and Volvo nameplates, FORD MOTOR CO. plans to consolidate in a new organization the administrative functions of its various group companies in Japan, including accounting, as well as such other operations as predelivery inspections. Such an integration is designed to cut costs by eliminating overlapping positions. All of the marketing activities of the various Ford-owned brands will remain independent of each other, however.

GENTEX CORP., the pioneer of the electrochromic automatic-dimming vehicle rearview mirror and now the dominant supplier of this technology to automotive makers around the world, is making a push into the Japanese market. The Zeeland, Michigan manufacturer has forged a broad alliance with MARUKAMI CORP. on electrochromic mirrors. Interestingly, the Shizuoka prefecture company is a Gentex competitor, having developed its own ECM technology. Under the agreement, however, Marukami will end production of its product and start marketing Gentex's Night Vision Safety mirrors. The two also will collaborate on product development. Comanufacturing is a possibility in the the future.

An exchange rate of ¥103=$1.00 was used in this report. aaaaa

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