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Old 12-27-2006, 05:29   #1 (permalink)
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US:Will Ford, Toyota team up?

Will Ford, Toyota team up?

Mulally, Cho meet to discuss cooperating on alternate fuel engines, manufacturing issues.

Bryce G. Hoffman and Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

New Ford Motor Co. CEO Alan Mulally has called himself "a disciple of the Toyota production system." Last week, he flew to Tokyo to meet with Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Fujio Cho to discuss ways the two companies could work together on advanced engine technologies and other issues.

A source familiar with the talks characterized them as "preliminary" and limited to possible collaborations between the automakers, downplaying speculation about a deeper alliance that swirled after news of the meeting broke in Japan.

In addition to discussing technologies such as hybrid-electric and hydrogen powertrains, the executives considered how the companies might work together on manufacturing and environmental issues.

"At this point, it's just a discussion," the source said.

Mulally was accompanied by Ford Americas President Mark Fields. Other top Toyota executives also participated in the discussion, held Wednesday. Mulally and Fields flew back to the United States the following day.

Ford did not officially confirm that the meeting had taken place. "We meet regularly with other automakers on a variety of topics of mutual interest," the company said in a statement late Tuesday.

In its own statement, Toyota said top managers meet with their counterparts at other automakers when opportunities arise. "As such, (Toyota Motor Corp.) Chairman Cho recently exchanged greetings with Ford CEO Alan Mulally," the company said.

At least one Wall Street analyst reacted cautiously. "If they were talking about a merger or an alliance, that would get everyone really excited," said Bradley Rubin at BNP Paribas. "But that's not going to happen."

Mulally has history with rival

Mulally is an avowed Toyota admirer who drove a Lexus until he was tapped to lead Ford in September. The former Boeing Co. executive looks to the Japanese automaker for inspiration.

"The Toyota production system is the finest production system in the world," he said in a recent interview with The Detroit News. "They're a magical machine. It's the machine that changed the world."

While at Boeing, Mulally became familiar with Toyota and visited the company's facilities in Japan. Ford and Toyota executives also have met regularly for years, according to sources in Dearborn, and possible collaborations have been discussed. While Ford has exchanged hybrid technology with Toyota, little else has come of these meetings.

The talks could progress now, however, because of Mulally's appreciation of the Toyota Production System, which focuses on eliminating inefficiencies and continuous improvement. At Boeing, Mulally introduced a version of the Toyota system.

Ford already collaborates with other automobile manufacturers. Its new six-speed automatic.
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Old 12-27-2006, 05:59   #2 (permalink)
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Re: US:Will Ford, Toyota team up?

Ford, Toyota chiefs did not discuss tie-up

Reuters

DETROIT -- The chairman of Toyota Motor Corp. met with the chief executive of Ford Motor Co. but they did not discuss the possibility of forming any alliance, Japan's top automaker said today.

"It was just a get-acquainted meeting," Toyota spokesman Tomomi Imai said, adding Toyota's top executives constantly meet with counterparts at other automakers.

Japanese business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun reported that Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho met last week in Tokyo as the first step in potential partnership negotiations.

The meeting was also attended by Ford Executive Vice President Mark Fields, who is in charge of restructuring the automaker's loss-making North American operations, the paper said.

Mulally may visit Japan again in January to meet with Toyota executives, the report also said.

The newspaper cited unnamed sources familiar with the talks as saying Ford was interested in Toyota's hybrid and fuel-cell technologies as well as its work in reducing manufacturing and parts procurement costs.

"I can't confirm or deny the report other than to say that we have discussions with participants in our industry all the time," Ford spokesman Oscar Suris said.

Ford shares closed up 7 cents, or nearly 1 percent, at $7.49 on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, Dec. 26.

Toyota shares rose more than 2.5 percent to a record 7,980 yen, or about $67.25 at current exchange rates, in line with gains in other top Japanese automakers' shares as the dollar held near a two-month high against the yen.

DEEP ALLIANCE UNLIKELY

Analysts were skeptical that Toyota and Ford would agree to an outright merger or a substantial joint investment given the diverging paths for the two automakers.

"I don't think you're looking at any kind of alliance here," IRN Inc. analyst Erich Merkle said. "You have to ask yourself what would be in it for Toyota. They're doing pretty well on their own."

Toyota is poised to overtake General Motors as the world's largest automaker in terms of production next year, and many analysts expect it will also unseat Ford as No. 2 in the U.S. market as soon as next year.

While Toyota's U.S. sales have jumped by almost 13 percent this year, Ford's have fallen by almost 8 percent.

The newspaper said Toyota could be considering a partnership as a way to ease potential friction with the U.S. auto industry at a time when its own growth -- as well as exports from Japan -- has been surging.

"As part of its strategy, Toyota is sweeping across the U.S. market. This could be a countermeasure to avert potential criticism," said Katsuhiko Kodama, senior strategist at Toyo Securities.

Mulally, who took over as Ford CEO in October with a mandate to turn the struggling company around, has spoken repeatedly about his admiration for Toyota, a company he said he studied closely as a manufacturing executive at Boeing Co.

Ford currently licenses part of Toyota's market-leading hybrid engine technology for the gasoline-electric versions of its Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs.

Ford, which has relied heavily on its line-up of trucks and SUVs, would stand to gain from a cooperative partnership with Toyota if it focused on fuel economy and other technology seen as environmentally friendly, said Edmunds.com analyst Jesse Toprak.

"In terms of long-term planning, I think it's very smart for Ford to be looking at this," Toprak said. "This is going to be a factor that will determine whether an auto maker is successful in the future."

Efraim Levy, an equity analyst at Standard & Poor's, agreed.

"Toyota could teach Ford a lot in any kind of joint venture (such as) suggestions on improving manufacturing efficiencies or sharing technologies," he said. "The benefits that would accrue to Toyota are less obvious."

He added: "I don't think any major transaction is going to occur between them. It's probably just going to be technology sharing."

The possible partnership is the latest of several that have captured headlines for the global auto industry in recent months.

GM declined to enter an alliance with Nissan-Renault in early October after three months of talks, triggering speculation the French-Japanese auto group could turn to Ford to secure a North American partner.

Carlos Ghosn, who heads both Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co., said last month he was open to adding a U.S. automaker to form a three-way alliance, but said the timing was not right for Nissan.
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