NEW YORK - General Motors, building a web of partnerships in Japan, is going native.
'We no longer see ourselves just as an importer to Japan. We are beginning to see ourselves as a company within Japan,' Chairman Jack Smith said Thursday, Feb. 8, at a meeting of the Japan Society.
With the alliances, GM's combined market share in Japan is 'second only to Toyota,' he said.
GM's new strategy was underscored by its decision to stop exporting Saturns to Japan. (See story, Page 1.)
GM has a 20 percent stake in Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru vehicles; a 49 percent stake in Isuzu Motors Ltd.; and a 20 percent stake in Suzuki Motor Corp. GM also has a nonequity business relationship with Honda Motor Co. Ltd. and a longstanding nonequity business relationship with Toyota Motor Corp.
GM's alliances with Japanese companies were further underscored recently when the company applied for membership in the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Smith said the company expects a decision by the end of the month.
Auto development projects with its Japanese partners are growing.
Smith said Isuzu will have the lead in engineering the next-generation Chevrolet S10 and GMC Sonoma pickups, as well as Isuzu pickups.
Joint Chevrolet-Subaru and Chevrolet-Suzuki car-truck cross-overs are in the works. These follow the recent unveiling of the Pontiac Vibe, developed jointly with Toyota, which will be assembled at the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in Fremont, Calif.
The Vibe is expected to go on sale in early 2002 as a 2003 model.
Meanwhile, Smith said he is optimistic about Japan's future, despite the country's continuing economic stagnation. He also expressed optimism about other Asian countries; China joining the World Trade Organization; India's global success in the software industry; and South Korea's rapidly recovering economy.
'My optimism for Asia rests on the truth that when people are allowed the economic freedom to better their lives and that of their families, they raise up entire nations,' he said.
Strong second half
On other topics, Smith said:
Although January auto sales in the United States were above expectations, he still believes sales in the first half of the year will be soft but will come back in the second half.
He wants the supply chain to get to the point where consumers can specify vehicles and have them delivered in 15 to 20 days. Dealer inventories would be cut drastically if this process were implemented. He disagreed with dealers who say consumers prefer to buy off the lot. He believes they would rather order their own tailor-made vehicles.
GM recommended renewal of the recently expired automotive trade accord with Japan 'to dampen future possible political friction.' Friction could grow, he said, if the Japanese economy weakens and Japan attempts to increase growth through greater exports, particularly if the U.S. economy softens.