Manufacturing in North America hasn't been a picnic for every Japanese automaker.
While Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. have made it look relatively effortless, three others -- Suzuki Motor Corp., Mazda Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. -- have struggled with mixed results for the past decade.
Mitsubishi's assembly plant in Normal, Ill., learned in May that it would have to make its way after 2005 without selling any Chrysler group vehicles to DaimlerChrysler. Earlier this year, DaimlerChrysler also backed away from a proposal to pump at least $2 billion into Mitsubishi's future products.
At AutoAlliance International Inc., Mazda's 50-50 joint venture with Ford Motor Co. in Flat Rock, Mich., the trail also has been bumpy. But the plant is hoping for a rebound now that Ford will build its Mustang there. The venture recently introduced a Mazda6 wagon and hatchback, which have boosted Mazda6 platform sales by 50 percent this year.
Since it opened in 1987, Flat Rock has endured intermittently slow sales for both the Mazda and Ford vehicles built there. Workers have been laid off, and the ownership of the plant has shifted from 100 percent Mazda ownership to the current Mazda-Ford joint venture.
Like Mitsubishi's Normal plant and Suzuki's CAMI Automotive Inc., Flat Rock's fate has been complicated by building small cars in an era of big trucks.
CAMI, Suzuki's 50-50 joint venture with General Motors in Ingersoll, Ontario, spent the 1990s building the Geo Metro, Pontiac Firefly, Suzuki Sidekick and other low-volume economy vehicles. Last year the plant used barely 50,000 units of its 200,000-vehicle-a-year capacity.
But GM has stuck by the venture. Two years ago CAMI received $350 million in investment to produce the Chevrolet Equinox SUV starting this year. Volume for the Equi-nox is running above 10,000 per month.