Exports of Japanese passenger cars to the United States would jump "between 10% and 15% at most" if Japan's program of restraint on the exports is ended this year, Takashi Ishihara, president of Nissan Motor Co., predicts.
Arguing that the restraint program should not be extended for a fifth year, Ishihara, who is also chairman of the Japan Auto Manufacturers Assn., told a group of foreign correspondents on Friday that "we feel the original purpose of the restraints has been achieved."
Contrary to the recession from which American manufacturers were suffering in April, 1981, when the restraint program began, he said, "the U.S. auto industry made record profits, expected to amount to $10 billion, last year and the number of laid-off auto workers has decreased sharply."
Asked what kind of a spurt might occur in exports of Japanese cars if the restraints were lifted March 31, the end of Japan's fiscal year, Ishihara said:
"I would guess that (exports would) increase by 10% or 15% at most. (Without restraints), we could ship as many cars as we might like to the United States. But to sell cars in the American market, the numbers of our dealers and salesmen and the facilities for . . . service will limit sales. I do not believe a sharp increase would occur."
William Brock, U.S. trade representative who last spring argued informally against extending the restraints beyond the current year, is expected to discuss the program during a visit to Japan next month.
So far, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, which has pegged this year's limit on car exports to the United States at 1.85 million, has made no statement about what attitude it will take on extending or ending the restraints. A 10% spurt in American sales would push Japanese exports above the 2 million mark.
For his own company, Japan's No. 2 auto maker, Ishihara predicted that global exports this year will grow by 3.4%. Teiichi Hara, a Nissan vice president, added that the forecast was made on the assumption that the export restraints to the United States would end March 31.
Ishihara said Nissan plans to expand production at its plant in Tennessee from its current capacity of 100,000 trucks, which was reached last June, to 240,000 trucks and passenger cars over the next three years.
Nissan is now producing only trucks at the Tennessee plant but plans to have the first Sentra passenger cars roll off the assembly line there in March and to gradually increase car production to 100,000 a year by the end of 1987, Ishihara said. Truck production will be increased to 140,000 a year during the same period, he added.
Ishihara, however, said that Nissan might increase car production at the U.S. plant during the next three years to "150,000, or even 200,000, if the need arises."