TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. dealers can sell Ford vehicles in Japan. But whether that happens depends on the negotiations between Ford and individual dealerships - and politics may be behind the timing of the negotiations.
'We've received several inquiries from Ford Japan' about selling Fords at Toyota dealerships, said Toyota spokesman Koki Konishi. 'Each time, we introduced them to a Toyota dealership.'
Konishi said the introductions were in line with Toyota's stated policy that its independent dealers could decide for themselves whether to sell foreign models.
In October, Nagoya Toyopet decided to handle Ford and Jaguar cars. In addition, Toyota has introduced Ford Japan to a Toyota dealer in the Tokyo area for potential cooperation, although Konishi added that in both cases the negotiations were or are being handled without Toyota involvement.
Ford Japan has requested an arrangement akin to that between Toyota and Volkswagen that produced the Duo network of dealerships, but nothing has been decided, Konishi said. In the Duo deal, Toyota buys cars from Volkswagen and wholesales them to its dealers.
Although Toyota has often espoused the independence of its dealers, parties ranging from foreign carmakers to Autobytel Japan have alleged that dealers are not willing to take on any partners without Toyota's blessing.
The timing of the current negotiations may be influenced by politics. The United States is pressing for an extension or renegotiation of the U.S.-Japan auto accord of 1995, which was supposed to give makers of foreign cars and parts more access to Japan. The Japanese side maintains the accord has outlived its usefulness.
Ford's asking Toyota for assistance now may be timed to put political pressure on Toyota. Likewise, Toyota's willingness to have its dealers sell Ford vehicles may be designed to show that private-sector cooperation is viable, and that government involvement in bilateral auto trade issues is unnecessary.