General Motors has done an about-face in Japan.
'If we want to be a significant player in this market, we're not going to get there relying on imports,' said General Motors President Rick Wagoner.
Four years ago, at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show, GM had predicted Japan-market sales of 100,000 by 2000. Last year, however, it sold just 39,749 cars and trucks in Japan, off 14.1 percent from 46,293 in 1997.
At the time, a favorable exchange rate and a rebounding Japanese economy were pumping up sales of imported Opels, Cadillacs and Chevro-lets. The GM-built Toyota Cavalier had just gone on sale. Saturn was about to launch sales in Japan.
Those favorable conditions disappeared soon afterward, however.
Now, faced with sliding sales in Japan, Wagoner said, 'The lesson learned is (that) you are going to be more successful if you develop and produce locally.'
GM and Suzuki Motor Co., in which GM has a 10 percent share, unveiled a Chevy-badged concept car called the YGM-1, which could be built at a Suzuki plant in Japan for sale in Japan, as well as at other plants owned by either maker across the region for sale in Asia.
Wagoner denied, however, that GM is totally abandoning imports in favor of local partnerships.
'There's always going to be a market here for imported left- and right-hand drive products. I suspect it will never be huge,' he said.
'We're just giving up on predicting we're going to triple our import sales.'