Japan-US Business Report Logo

No. 362, November 1999

Issue Index aaaaa Subscriber Area

American Companies in Japan


For years, GENERAL MOTORS CORP. has said that it aims to control over the medium term 10 percent of the poised-to-soar car and light truck market in developing Asia. How the world's largest automotive maker planned to manage this feat never was spelled out in detail. GM eliminated some of the question marks in September 1998 when executives announced that the company would work with affiliate SUZUKI MOTOR CORP., Japan's top maker of minivehicles, to design and develop vehicles for emerging markets. The first product resulting from this closer relationship recently was previewed. The Chevrolet-badged concept car, dubbed the YGM-1, is based on a subcompact Suzuki platform but styled by GM's Australian unit. Designed to seat five passengers, the sporty hatchback will be powered by either a 1.3-liter or a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. GM plans to launch production and sales of the YGM-1 in 2001. Where the car will be built has not been decided, although one possibility is Suzuki's Kosai factory in Shizuoka prefecture. GM now owns 10 percent of Suzuki.

The YGM-1 could be sold in Japan, but the next GENERAL MOTORS CORP. product launched there probably will be the new midsize Saturn L-Series. The exact timing has not been decided, but it might be as soon as the first quarter of 2001, SATURN CORP. executives say. Initially, only left-hand-drive versions of the three L-Series sedans and the two L-Series wagon models will be available. Sales of Saturn's S-Series of subcompact sedans, coupes and wagons have been disappointing since introduction in April 1997. Saturn's exclusive dealer network retailed just 1,375 vehicles in 1998. The company hopes a broader lineup will give a lift to sales.

The 2000-model-year version of GENERAL MOTORS CORP.'s Cadillacs are arriving at YANASE & CO., LTD. showrooms across Japan. The DeVille DHS sedan, available only with left-hand drive, lists at $65,900. The right-hand-drive, four-door Seville SLS and Seville STS have a manufacturer suggested retail price of $56,200 and $61,500, respectively. GM is eyeing sales of 1,000 or so DeVille DHSs in 2000 and 2,000 Sevilles. Moreover, various 2000-model-year Chevrolet products are showing up at Yanase dealerships. The sporty Camaro two-door coupe is available in three trim levels for $28,200 to $37,400. A like number of new Corvette sports-car models have been introduced as well at list prices of $56,100 to $64,800. Dealers also are selling four versions of the Blazer sport-utility vehicle; they range in price from $30,900 to $36,600. Finally, the 2000 Astro minivan comes in five trim levels. Their MSRPs are between $28,200 and $38,600.

The rebadged right-hand-drive Chevrolet Cavalier coupe for 2000 is showing up at TOYOTA MOTOR CORP. dealerships. Equipped with 2.4-liter engines, the two models start at $14,100 or $16,900. Toyota stores have sold the Cavalier since the beginning of 1997, but sales never have reached the targeted level of 10,000 units a year. In 1998, for example, they totaled roughly 6,800. Sales are doing no better this year despite a major price cut. This track record and changing times in the automotive business have suggested to some industry watchers that GENERAL MOTORS CORP. and Toyota will end their supply arrangement in 2000.

The American side of DAIMLERCHRYSLER AG will roll out two new products in Japan in 2000. At midyear, the all-new Chrysler 300M performance sedan will debut as a left-hand-drive vehicle. Then, in late 2000, the Chrysler PT Cruiser "panel van" will arrive in showrooms. This innovative yet affordable four-door vehicle combines retro styling with the versatility and the convenience of today's minivan. Interestingly, it will be built as a right-hand-drive product for Japan.

The 15th anniversary of BORG AUTOMOTIVE, INC. production in Nabari City, Mie prefecture coincided with the inauguration of new capacity at the plant, which is run by the Chicago manufacturer's Morse TEC group and makes automotive chain systems and components for engine timing, automatic transmission and four-wheel-drive applications. The 50 percent increase in capacity is geared to the continuing shift from belts to timing chain drives in overhead-cam engines. According to BWA, the new technology makes engines more fuel-efficient while reducing emissions. The company says that its chain has been designed to provide low noise, power and durability in a compact package.

The May 1999 acquisition of LUCASVARITY PLC by TRW INC. will result over time in the complete integration of the Japanese operations of the two major automotive components suppliers. Already, the people at the former LucasVarity's marketing and sales unit have moved over to TRW's Tokyo office, which now has about 30 people. In the next phase, LucasVarity technical facilities in Japan will be combined with the technical center that TRW expects to open in the fall of 2000. TRW and LucasVarity have complementary product lines, particularly in the vehicle control systems area, which includes braking systems (LucasVarity) and steering and suspension systems (TRW). Executives of the Cleveland-headquartered multinational believe that among other benefits, the acquisition will better position TRW to meet the increasing demand by vehicle manufacturers for complete modular systems.

The huge Visteon Automotive Systems operation of FORD MOTOR CO. believes that a five-year partnership with MITSUBOSHI BELTING LTD. will help it become the top supplier of automotive cockpits in the Asian Pacific. The two companies will codevelop molded components for cockpit modules, particularly for Visteon's superintegrated cockpit modules. These parts will be manufactured at Mitsuboshi Belting factories in Nagoya and Kanagawa prefecture and then integrated with Visteon's cockpit modules before shipment to customers in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

Visteon rival DELPHI AUTOMOTIVE SYSTEMS CORP. reportedly plans to strengthen its substantial automotive electronics business by purchasing components for in-vehicle navigation systems from XANAVI INFORMATICS CORP. The joint venture between NISSAN MOTOR CO., LTD. and HITACHI, LTD. currently makes CD-ROM drive-equipped control units for navigation systems. These now go exclusively to Nissan, but Ibaraki prefecture-based Xanavi is looking for more customers to help it triple total revenues over the next five years. If the deal with Delphi is finalized, component shipments could start in the spring of 2000.

Already active on several fronts to develop the technology for commercially viable fuel cell-powered vehicles, DAIMLERCHRYSLER AG will work with NIPPON MITSUBISHI OIL CORP. on fuel options for these vehicles. Although Nippon Mitsubishi Oil is Japan's top oil refiner and distributor, it has expertise in fuel cells from work done by one of the merger partners with MITSUBISHI MOTORS CORP. Equally attractive to DaimlerChrysler no doubt is the fact that the company runs 29 Eco-Stations that provide electricity, natural gas, methanol and liquid petroleum gas. The initial fuel-cell test vehicles will run on methanol, but DaimlerChrysler and Nippon Mitsubishi Oil say that they will evaluate the potential for other fuels. Road testing is expected to start sometime in the first quarter of 2001.

An exchange rate of ¥106=$1.00 was used in this report. aaaaaa

Top aaaaa Issue Index aaaaa Subscriber Areaaaaa Home