TOKYO -- Japan's response to Chrysler's bankruptcy is an incredulous shake of the head.
Some here worry about the bankruptcy's impact on the supply chain that is so vital to Japanese automakers operating in North America. Others raise the specter of an anti-Japanese backlash arising from Chrysler's misfortune.
But sympathy for Chrysler largely has evaporated in the homeland of Toyota, Nissan and Honda. Japanese opinion largely blames U.S. automakers for their own problems. Chrysler's collapse and the possible bankruptcy of General Motors have unleashed a flood of smug "I told you so" commentaries in Japanese media.
Many opinion leaders doubt Chrysler can survive, even with a Fiat tie-up and government aid.
"We can't be optimistic," said an editorial in Japan's Asahi newspaper. "The key to Chrysler's rebirth is the introduction of small-car technology. They have been working hard to improve it. But using Japanese technology as a reference point, they aren't there yet. The hurdles they face are high."
Chrysler is a bit player in Japan. Its cars rarely are seen on the country's crowded streets. The company sold just 5,514 vehicles here in 2008, down 13.3 percent from 2007. Yet to many Japanese, Chrysler typifies everything that's wrong with the U.S. auto industry.
"U.S. carmakers have failed to conduct sweeping management reform," said the Mainichi newspaper. "They couldn't change the structure of being heavily dependent on large, inefficient cars and left the issues of high labor cost and high executive salaries untouched."
Even with the government bailout and help from a new business partner, Chrysler is likely to get "swamped again by a wave of selection," the newspaper warned.
Other voices advocate letting Chrysler fail.
"A situation in which private companies cannot survive without government support is not normal," the Sankei newspaper argued. It said Chrysler has been "spoiled by public assistance."
A columnist in the Nikkei newspaper, the Japanese equivalent of The Wall Street Journal, bemoaned the "different mind-set" of Detroit auto executives. The elements of that mind-set: They don't care about building better cars; they don't understand the factory floor. The quest for quick profits obscures all else.
The columnist noted that American auto CEOs often have financial backgrounds, while their Japanese counterparts emerged from engineering laboratories. He described how Shoichiro Toyoda, the honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., urged his engineers to "listen to the engines" to identify problems.
His predecessor, Eiji Toyoda, took every new car for a test drive and actively provided feedback, even in retirement, the columnist wrote. He concludes that GM and Chrysler might need "foreign" CEOs.
Chances are, even Japan's best and brightest wouldn't welcome that challenge.