TOKYO - Eyebrows are being raised here over news that a Japanese auto executive is in line to head the Washington-based Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The multinational alliance was formed after the American Automobile Manufacturers Association, the trade and lobbying group for General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and the former Chrysler Corp., folded.
With the exception of Honda, which has refused to join, the alliance embraces any auto company with a manufacturing presence in the United States, and the chairmanship changes every year by predetermined rotation.
That puts a Toyota Motor Corp. executive in line to chair the group for a year starting Jan. 1, 2001.
'This is the successor to AAMA, which played such a key role in trade disputes with Japan. For the chairman to come from someone outside the Big 3 ... ,' Yoshifumi Tsuji, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said at a monthly press conference with a tone of marvel in his voice.
'It's more the head of a technical grouping,' interrupted an aide.
In a Page 2 article, Japan's largest daily newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, said, 'The fact that a Japanese firm may head a group of U.S. automakers highlights the way in which the auto industry is realigning, irrespective of national boundaries.'
Part of Tsuji's amazement may be because the alliance knows who its chairman will be in January. In contrast, JAMA doesn't know who its next chairman will be, with the position available in May.
Traditionally, the post has alternated between the chairmen of Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Tsuji comes from Nissan, but Toyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda has said he doesn't want the post, and has hinted that maybe other carmakers should step up to the duties the job involves.
'Whether it will rotate among three companies, five companies or 10 companies, I don't know,' Tsuji said. JAMA has 13 members: the 11 vehicle makers plus motorcycle makers Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. and Yamaha Motor Co.
He said the issue would be decided at a JAMA governors' meeting March 16. Added Tsuji: 'Until then, I can't say anything.'