As Japanese companies grapple with the unfamiliar reality of auto worker layoffs and offshoring, their North American counterparts are racing to build plants, expand existing ones and hire workers.
"A lot of auto industry product that was made in Japan in the past is now being made in North America for the North American market," says Melanie Hart, CEO of Tsuchiya North America, a Japanese-owned producer of plastic trim and other parts with plants in Indiana, Texas and Ontario.
"In some cases, because of the currency exchange or various other reasons, some product is even being shipped from here to Japan. That's a bit of a reversal."
In fact, it is a historic reversal.
Thirty years ago, many in the United States feared it was the North American industry that was being hollowed out. And some blamed it on Japan's success.
Auto factories in Japan struggled to keep up with demand. Honda and Toyota couldn't build enough vehicles to satisfy U.S. retailers. Smaller brands such as Mitsubishi and Suzuki scurried to join the export wave to the United States. Japanese shipping companies pondered how to build faster trans-Pacific freighters to get vehicles here quicker.
By 1981, American consumers' hunger for Japanese vehicles -- and the resulting damage to U.S. sales and auto industry employment -- was so intense that the administration of President Reagan negotiated a voluntary export restraint agreement with Japan to limit vehicle shipments to the United States.
In 1980 alone, 200,000 U.S. auto workers were pink-slipped. Communities suffered as plants closed in Detroit; Cleveland; Flint, Mich.; Milpitas, Calif.; and Framingham, Mass.
"The Japanese are not exporting cars to the U.S.," UAW President Doug Fraser lamented, in a comment typical for the time. "They are exporting unemployment."
A widely circulated photograph of the day showed Detroit auto workers taking turns destroying a Mazda car with a sledgehammer to express their rage about Japanese exports.