More than 20 years after he began pushing the message, Bill Raftery says it's still true: U.S. and European suppliers could benefit from closer ties to the Japanese auto industry.
'Too many U.S. firms are interested only in the Big 3,' says Raftery, an industry consultant in Pinehurst, N.C.
Raftery has devoted a fair portion of his career to bringing the two industries closer together - always with profit as the motive, he makes clear.
From 1962-91, he served as president of a U.S. auto parts trade group, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association.
During that time, he was an adviser to a string of U.S. presidents, a participant in trade issues and, in the end, a voice of business sense at a time when the fur was flying between U.S. and Japanese trade negotiators.
In 1980, Raftery joined industry leaders in pressing Japan's automakers to begin building assembly plants in North America. 'I believe the feeling for most of the industry - not me - was that if the Japanese manufactured here, we would eat their lunch,' says Raftery. 'My hope was that we could simply begin to bring down the trade imbalance with Japan.
'Lo and behold, the Japanese did what we asked them.'
During the adversarial late 1980s, in an effort to stimulate business, Raftery negotiated a series of 'one-on-one meetings' between the purchasing heads and CEOs of Japan's automakers and the senior executives of U.S. parts companies. The meetings, which are still being held, have resulted in dozens of new business relationships for U.S. parts companies.
Raftery, a member of the Automotive Hall of Fame who is now in private consulting, counsels U.S., European and Japanese firms on business development. He urges all of them to solicit more business from the Japanese automakers.
'I believe the industry still has something to learn from the Japanese,' Raftery says. 'They are still much more demanding than the industry in general.'