TOKYO -- Mazda and Mitsubishi face a dubious distinction in this new era of "America First" trade politics in the U.S.: Of the six Japanese automakers selling cars in the country, they are alone in not building vehicles there.
Neither automaker has been singled out by name in one of President Donald Trump's signature zinger tweets, unlike Toyota, which he took to task for constructing a new auto plant in Mexico.
But Washington's emerging trade policy is flustering all of Japan Inc., and executives at both Mazda and Mitsubishi were hounded by the press last week during quarterly earnings about their U.S. production strategies -- or lack thereof.
The measured responses of their executives seemed scripted to avoid confrontation with the new U.S. president.
"There are many reports about NAFTA renegotiation and a border tariff and other policies under the new U.S. administration," said Mazda Motor Corp. Executive Vice President Akira Marumoto. "We at Mazda make sure to collect all such information, seriously analyze possible impacts on us and the car industry, and we are watching closely the developments."
He then highlighted the fact that Mazda built about 193,000 vehicles at its plant in Mexico last year but shipped only about 30 percent of them to the United States, all of them Mazda3 small cars.
When pushed multiple times on various angles of the situation, such as the potential threat to Mazda's exports to the U.S. from Japan, or Trump's impact on foreign exchange rates, an impassive Marumoto stared down at his prepared remarks and began reading again: "As I already said ... "
Mitsubishi, which imports all U.S. product from Japan and Thailand, was equally circumspect about the changing trade landscape.
"The Trump administration's policy is a difficult issue," Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Executive Vice President Koji Ikeya acknowledged while announcing his company's fiscal third-quarter earnings Jan. 30. "But the U.S. market is very important. So, we will carefully watch what policy and message President Trump will formulate. With that in mind, we will continue considering strategies."