It will be at least six months before General Motors and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. of Japan determine how to proceed with their new alliance.
The two have alluded to sharing global technology and products as a result of GM's acquisition of a 20 percent stake in Fuji last month.
But one corner of the family is now eager to proceed: Subaru of America Inc. The U.S. sales and marketing arm for Fuji's Subaru-brand cars believes it could benefit directly from GM's involvement.
`Eager to learn'
'We are eager to learn what might be possible,' said Takao Saito, chairman of the Cherry Hill, N.J., sales company.
Saito cited several possible areas of benefit to Subaru:
Purchasing: Saito believes Subaru could save money by tapping into GM's global parts procurement. Even though Subaru's product lines are dissimilar to GM's, the U.S. giant builds between 7 million and 8 million passenger vehicles a year, compared with just more than 500,000 for Fuji. That presents the Japanese company with an economy of scale it has never known, potentially helping make Subarus less expensive to manufacture.
Saito also conjectured Subaru might join GM's new electronic purchasing system, by which GM uses the World Wide Web to source auto parts for high-volume use.
Finance and information technology: GM also could strengthen Subaru operations by extending GM finance support to the smaller company, the chairman noted. That could include different levels of financial support, from back-office corporate needs to auto retailing support.
In the United States, for example, Subaru sold just 156,806 cars last year. Access to GM's mighty auto finance network could be attractive. Subaru has only a small captive finance operation, working mostly around the New York area. For the rest of the United States, Subaru relies on an outside finance company, Primus Automotive.
Production: Although there are no clear plans yet for the alliance, Saito noted that it offers new possibilities at Fuji's U.S. manufacturing venture, Subaru-Isuzu Automotive Inc. Fuji owns 51 percent of the Indiana joint venture and Isuzu Motors Ltd. owns the other 49 percent. The joint venture builds Subaru Legacys and Outbacks, the Isuzu Rodeo and Amigo and the Honda Passport.
Fuji's tie-up introduces a new dimension to the venture: Both Subaru and Isuzu are now under the influence of GM. GM also owns a stake in Isuzu Motors.
Other joint ventures
GM has a hand in two other North American joint-venture automakers: CAMI Automotive Inc. of Ingersoll, Ontario, which is 50 percent owned by Suzuki Motor Co.; and New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. of Fremont, Calif., which is 50 percent owned by Toyota Motor Corp.
But in both of those cases, GM has participated since the beginning. Its involvement in the Isuzu side of Subaru-Isuzu Automotive has been minor, supplying engines and other components to some of Isuzu's vehicles.
Saito said he now is waiting along with everyone else to learn how Fuji and GM will work together. A committee of executives will spend the first half of this year working out those ideas, he said.
Initially, GM said the alliance would give it access to Fuji's all-wheel-drive small-car technology. Officials also suggested that Fuji might give GM a small car to use in emerging markets.