With all of the competitive passion that can boil over in the auto industry, you sometimes forget that competitors can be friends, too.
Auto and supplier execs often live in the same communities, send their kids to the same schools, belong to the same clubs and support the same charities. But in the rigid, competitive environment of the auto industry, The Code dictates that opposing clans don't get close to each other - except in hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield.
Historically, it just doesn't make sense to be seen as too chummy with the competition.
So it was an interesting moment when former General Motors CEO Jack Smith publicly called Soichiro Toyoda his friend. And Smith said it in a way that sounded genuine and heartfelt. He didn't say it in that bland, casual way some people use the word to describe almost anyone they've met.
Smith and Toyoda, the honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., were among the executives honored by the SAE Foundation at Wednesday's black-tie dinner in Detroit that was attended by a lot of OEM and supplier brass.
Toyoda traveled from Japan to receive the prestigious 2005 Manufacturing Leadership Award, the first non-North American executive to be honored in the award's nine-year history.
Smith received a Lifetime Achievement award and during his acceptance remarks said his friendship with Toyoda goes back nearly 25 years, to the days when they set up the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. joint venture.
Neither man is actively involved in the business anymore, so it's probably easier to be friends. But apart from their NUMMI partnership, they were archrivals and head-to-head competitors in almost every market around the world for several years.
Now that's friendship.
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