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No. 363, December 1999

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Japanese Companies in the US


At a cost of roughly $47.6 million, AICHI STEEL CORP. is buying the 80 percent of LOUISVILLE FORGE AND GEAR WORKS, LLC that it does not own already. The manufacturer of specialty steel and forged products bought into the Georgetown, Kentucky company in August 1997, paying some $10 million for its initial stake. Louisville Forge makes such forged products as crankshafts, gears, knuckles, camshafts and connecting rods for the automotive and off-road equipment industries. Its primary customer is TOYOTA MOTOR CORP.'s main North American assembly complex, which also is located in Georgetown. However, Aichi Steel, which does a considerable amount of business with Toyota at home, hopes that Louisville Forge can win contracts from other companies. Such an expansion would help boost sales above the current annual total of about $76.2 million.

STRAWBERRY CORP. is moving into the American market for microhinges used in such products as cellular phones and PCs. Although only three years old, the Kawagoe, Saitama prefecture manufacturer claims to be the world's leading supplier of precision hinges for cell phones. Executives attribute this success not only to cutting-edge design and production capabilities but also to the company's ability to quickly engineer products to customers' requirements. That responsiveness, in turn, is the result of what Strawberry says is the largest number of computer-aided design and manufacturing systems in the hinge industry.

Virtually unnoticed outside the business, SONY CORP.'s main U.S. subsidiary sold MATERIALS RESEARCH CORP. to industrial gases giant PRAXAIR, INC. Sony's 1989 purchase of Orangeburg, New York-headquartered MRC, then a manufacturer of chemical vapor deposition and physical vapor deposition equipment for semiconductor producers as well as of thin-film deposition materials, became a political issue in the United States because of worries that Japanese competitors not only would dominate the chip market but also take over the semiconductor manufacturing equipment end of the industry. Those fears have evaporated. In the meantime, Sony sold MRC's equipment division to TOKYO ELECTRON LTD. The operations acquired by Praxair of Danbury, Connecticut consist of deposition materials, mainly sputtering targets for semiconductor production.

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