TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. President Hiroshi Okuda insisted last week that he is serious about wanting to join the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the Big 3's exclusive club.
'This is for real,' he said, grinning mischievously.
Despite the hint that he may only be tweaking the lion's beard, Okuda told a small group of foreign reporters at a reception here that Toyota has a serious case for joining AAMA. Toyota's U.S. operations next year will build 1.2 million vehicles, he said, and 'we will have a certain scale in the United States.'
Moreover, if Toyota attends AAMA meetings with the Big 3, 'We will be able to take cooperative approaches to problems we have in common. It will smooth communications. And if trade frictions begin to arise, we'll hear about those complaints earlier so we can respond earlier,' he said.
AAMA is not likely to see it that way. The association was formed after its predecessor, the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association, kicked out Honda and Volvo so it could present a united front when lobbying Washington on trade matters.
Okuda admitted that Toyota has not applied to join AAMA, and that it has no timetable for doing so.
Asked if his case for AAMA membership might be stronger if Henry Wallace, the Ford Motor Co. executive who is president of Mazda Motor Corp., were a member of the board of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Okuda said: 'I don't think it would make a difference.'
Wallace has declined to stand for election to the JAMA board, a position typically held by the president of each Japanese carmaker. Instead, Mazda will be represented by its new chairman, Mamoru Takebayashi.
This is the second year Wallace has declined to serve on JAMA, citing time pressures and his efforts to return Mazda to the black.