TOKYO -- Ford Motor Co. claims Toyota Motor Corp. is keeping a stranglehold on suppliers of key technologies such as batteries, controllers, inverters and so on. According to Ford, Aisin won't sell to the automaker because of Toyota's influence.
Specifically, last year Mary Ann Wright, then chief of Ford's hybrid program, alleged that Toyota was trying to limit Ford's access to components needed for its Escape Hybrid SUV.
Ford relies on Aisin AW Co., an Aisin Group transmission maker that is part of the Toyota Group, for certain hybrid components. Wright said Toyota had awarded Aisin AW a "significant" contract for hybrid transaxles, thus soaking up Aisin AW's capacity and leaving little for Ford.
Later Jim Padilla, then head of Ford's North American business, made similar allegations.
Toyota owns 22.2 percent of Aisin Seiki, the lead company in the Aisin Group.
Toyota refuses to be drawn into the controversy. "This is a matter between Ford and Aisin," says Toyota spokesman Tomomi Imai.
Says Yoshihiko Kanada, spokesman for Aisin Seiki Co: "It's not that big a problem. We are selling to Ford.
"We had some tight capacity, and couldn't raise output that quickly," he says.
As demand from Toyota, Ford and other carmakers for hybrid components has grown, Aisin and others have taken steps to boost output, he adds. "The whole industry is moving in that direction," he says.
Besides, he says, "carmaker risk must be considered."
One doesn't need conspiracy theories to see how Ford might find itself short of hybrid parts.
Imagine that you run a parts supplier that makes hybrid components. Your company is straining to keep up with a surge in demand. You cannot possibly fill all the orders you have received.
So you have to choose which customers get their parts and which ones wait.
Do you sell your limited supplies to carmaker A? That company has been gaining market share for 30 years, is known for working well with suppliers and is on solid financial footing.
Or do you give priority to carmaker B? That one has lost market share for almost 20 years and has a reputation for playing suppliers against each other. Its debt is rated as "junk."
By the way, carmaker A is your company's largest shareholder.
Now, just for argument's sake, say you choose to supply carmaker A. Is that equity stake the main reason behind your decision?
You may e-mail James B. Treece at [email protected]