Toyota Will Double Imports to Japan of Its U.S.-Built Cars

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an apparent effort to help reduce trade friction between Japan and the United States, Toyota plans to more than double its imports of U.S.-built cars and other products into Japan over the next three years, the company said Monday.

Toyota, Japan's largest auto maker, said that by 1992, its imports of American products into Japan will total $2.1 billion, up from $1 billion in 1989.

Toyota said it will ship up to 40,000 U.S.-built cars a year from its new American assembly operations back to Japan by the early 1990s. The cars, to be produced at Toyota's new Georgetown, Ky., assembly plant, will be Camry compact models equipped with right-hand drive, which is standard in Japan.

In addition, Toyota said that, beginning next year, it will export 600,000 catalytic converters for use in its Japanese-built cars from its highly automated factory in Long Beach; by 1992, those exports will rise to 750,000 annually. Also in 1992, the company will begin exporting 100,000 engines a year to Japan, from a new engine plant in Kentucky.

The actions mark a major change for Toyota, which was initially more reluctant than other Japanese auto makers to commit to building cars in the United States. Traditionally, Toyota has produced virtually all of its cars and parts in Japan, with most of its manufacturing operations concentrated around its Toyota City headquarters.

Now, however, Toyota officials say the firm is taking a more global outlook.

"We are at the stage now with our overseas operations, particularly in the U.S., where we can begin to experiment with model sharing, and parts and component sourcing on a more global level," said Toyota Executive Vice President Tsutomu Ohshima. "This is our first real step, and we expect there will be others to follow."

To expand its purchases of American parts, the company said it will spend $144 million on its U.S. research and development activities, tripling the size of its Ann Arbor, Mich., technical center, and adding a new technical headquarters in Torrance, near the headquarters of its U.S. sales and marketing operations.

Toyota said one of the main functions of the expanded technical staff will be to evaluate American parts suppliers and parts, which the firm said its U.S. operations have not been equipped to do in the past.

Among its first major purchases have been U.S.-built machine tools, according to a report in an industry trade journal. Toyota has become the first Japanese auto maker producing cars in this country to buy tooling and equipment for its new U.S. factory from American machine tool makers, Metalworking News reported Monday.

Meanwhile, Toyota officials have also visited nine U.S. semiconductor makers as part of an effort to increase the company's use of American computer chips in its cars. On Monday, the company said it plans a "sevenfold" increase in its use of American chips by 1992.

Toyota is not the first Japanese company to export U.S.-built cars back to Japan, however.

Honda currently ships 6,000 Accord Coupes a year from its Marysville, Ohio, assembly plant to Japan and plans to increase those exports to 50,000 a year by the early 1990s. A proposed Accord station wagon, which is to be built only in Marysville--and not Japan--beginning in 1991, is also considered a likely candidate for export back to Japan, company officials say.

The Ford Probe, which is built by Mazda in the company's Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant, is also exported to Japan. Exports of the new Mitsubishi Eclipse, produced by Diamond-Star Motors, a joint venture between Chrysler and Mitsubishi in Bloomington, Ill., will begin in December.

In order to avert strict limits on direct Japanese imports into Taiwan, several Japanese operations here have also begun shipping cars to Taiwan. Toyota currently exports Camrys from Kentucky and Corolla subcompact models from its joint venture with General Motors for the Taiwanese market. Toyota said Monday that it will increase shipments of U.S.-built Camrys to Taiwan from 4,000 a year to 10,000 annually by 1992.

Toyota also announced several smaller purchases of American products. Most notably, it said it is buying a second U.S.-made supercomputer for use in its engineering and design offices in Japan from Minneapolis-based Cray Research.

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