2005 Tokyo Motor Show, Part III

October 18, 2005

TCC's Auto Show Index by TCC Team (10/3/2005)
Our coverage of the world's major auto shows, year to year.

2005 Tokyo Motor Show Index by TCC Team (10/18/2005)

 

Japanese Wary of Detroit Woes

 

If Japanese automakers are gloating over the problems facing their American rivals, they’re certainly not doing it in public. The topic arose repeatedly during conversations around Makuhari Messe, the sprawling suburban convention center where virtually every major executive of the Japanese auto industry gathered on Wednesday. “I didn’t expect Ford and GM to be in this bad a state,” admitted Takeo Fukui, CEO of Honda Motor Co. As for Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer at Nissan, he does “not believe (the Big Two) are on the verge of bankruptcy,” but added, “we’re not underestimating the situation.” There was no clear consensus on how to respond, especially to recent problems at U.S. suppliers, such as the bankrupt Delphi Corp. Japanese makers are definitely concerned about the possibility of supply chain disruptions, now that they’re using more American-made parts to supply their “transplant” assembly lines. Fukui suggested that in the long run, companies such as Delphi, Ford and GM “need to go through this competition to be stronger as an organization.” But Nissan’s Shiga echoed an equally common sentiment among Japanese executives. “If a big wave came, it would not be favorable to a small boat,” he said, likening Nissan to the vulnerable craft. A potential political backlash seems unlikely, other Japanese officials privately suggested, but not out of the question if it were to cost a large number of U.S. jobs.

 

 

Ford Not Interested In Alliance

 

Ford Motor Co. is not looking for a merger partner or any other alliance as a way to solve its current fiscal problems, declared the automaker’s COO, Jim Padilla. In an interview with TheCarConnection.com, the Ford executive insisted, “People underestimate how difficult it is to make a relationship work.” There’s certainly pressure on Ford to solve its problems, Padilla agreed, “but you can’t assume there’s a panacea out there.” Padilla’s comments come as word of possible alliance talks flow through the industry’s chatty, global rumor mill. Most often, such gossip seems to link Ford with Nissan, the Japanese turnaround company. For his part, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn insisted such talk is just that. At the same time, he said the company “is open” to a potential alliance. It already proved that such deals really can work, with its French ally Renault getting credit for helping revive Nissan’s flagging fortunes. But there are no plans, nor discussions underway, Ghosn quickly added.

 

 

Ghosn, Ghosn, NOT Ghone

 

Ford CEO Bill Ford has acknowledged approaching senior executives at several rival companies about joining the beleaguered Detroit manufacturer. That apparently includes Dieter Zetsche, the former Chrysler CEO soon to be chairman of DaimlerChrysler AG. But whether Ford has also tried to tap the widely hailed Nissan/Renault CEO, Carlos Ghosn, is apparently a matter of debate. The jet-setting Ghosn said “rumors of my leaving Nissan and Renault are unfounded,” though he declined to specifically deny any effort to recruit him. “Approaches are not always direct,” he said, somewhat cryptically. “I like what I’m doing,” he added, “and see no need to change.” Some observers have speculated that with Nissan on the mend, Ghosn might seek other challenges, but he emphasized that “I think Nissan has more potential to deliver.”

 

 

Mazda Switching to Direct Injection

 

While green machines didn’t dominate the floor at Makuhari Messe the way they have in years past, automakers from Japan and abroad certainly didn’t ignore the issues of mileage and emissions. Mazda CEO Hisakuzu Imaki opened his company’s press conference by promising to “pursue” direct injection gasoline technology, which could soon dominate the Japanese maker’s powertrain lineup. DI systems inject fuel directly into the cylinder to improve the combustion process, boosting both performance and mileage, while lowering emissions. Mazda, added Imaki, is developing a “smart” engine stop/start system that will go into mass production “in three years.” It’s also set to begin testing of a new hybrid powertrain system developed by its U.S. affiliate, Ford Motor Co. A prototype, hydrogen-powered version of the RX-8 sports car will go into limited leasing next year, while a hydrogen-fueled version of the Premacy is under development, as well, according to Imaki.

 

 

Infiniti: Slow and Measured Roll-Out

 

Nissan’s luxury brand, Infiniti, is beginning a slow and measured global roll-out. It recently entered the South Korean market, and is now on sale in parts of the Mideast. Russian distribution will begin by mid-2006. But despite the push by Lexus, the luxury division operated by Nissan’s arch-rival, Toyota, there’s no need to hurry up, said Carlos Ghosn. The Nissan CEO said there are a number of steps still needed to build up the Infiniti brand, including new product and an increased emphasis on customer service and satisfaction. An entrance into the tough Western European and Japanese markets, then will not occur, said Ghosn, “until after 2008.”

 

Separately, Ghosn said he is rethinking plans to bring the Renault brand back to the United States. The executive assumed dual titles earlier this year, when he was also named CEO of Nissan’s French affiliate, Renault. Ghosn’s predecessor had been hoping to re-enter the American market by 2010, but “for the moment,” said Ghosn, “I have no plans for the U.S.” Bringing Renault back will require some serious planning and execution, he explained. “To go to the U.S., you have to commit your soul, your money and your dreams.”

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