Bush Asks Big 3 Auto Makers to Visit Japan
President Bush has invited captains of industry, including the chairmen of the beleaguered Big Three U.S. auto makers, to accompany him on his trip to Japan early next year, auto industry officials said Friday.
The trip, billed as the first time a U.S. President has traveled with business executives on such a trade mission, is to be announced by the White House next week, Administration sources said.
The Dec. 30 to Jan. 10 trip is intended to press Japan on the myriad trade disputes between the two nations, especially the $41-billion U.S. trade deficit. Three-fourths of the deficit is in automobiles and auto parts.
The Bush visit comes as he falls under increasing attack for inaction on the nation’s economic woes. The U.S. auto firms, hard hit by a slumping economy and Japanese competition, are suffering their worst losses ever.
The heads of the Big Three, meanwhile, have been urging greater government-industry cooperation and better access to Japan’s auto market. Chrysler has pushed for a ceiling on Japan’s auto market share in this country.
Chairmen Robert C. Stempel of General Motors, Harold O. Poling of Ford Motor and Lee A. Iacocca of Chrysler were scrambling Friday to rearrange their schedules and have not yet accepted the invitations, their spokesmen said.
However, an Iacocca aide said, “I can’t imagine him not going.”
Details of the trip were sketchy, and apparently not all the invitations had been issued Friday. GM officials said they were waiting to learn more about the agenda planned for the trip.
Among those who already accepted the invitations from Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher are Heinz Prechter, chairman of ASC Inc., a Michigan auto supplier, and John P. Reilly, president of Tenneco Automotive.
Prechter is president of the President’s Export Council, a government-industry group that advises the President, and Reilly is chairman of the Auto Parts Advisory Council, another presidential advisory group.
Critics of Japanese trade practices have increasingly focused on auto components, as distinct from built-up automobiles, contending that even the cars Japan is now building in this country use mainly Japanese parts. Auto parts alone account for $10 billion of the trade deficit with Japan, and a government-sponsored study predicted that the figure will double by 1994.
Though it seemed unlikely that serious trade negotiations would take place on the trip, the high-profile U.S. entourage will presumably drive home the importance Bush attaches to the trade problem and benefit him politically at home. But others saw a hat-in-hand flavor to the visit.
“To march a half-dozen chief executives around Japan, how humiliating,” said Maryann Keller, the automotive analyst at the Wall Street firm of Furman, Selz Inc. “If I were Bob Stempel, I’d say, ‘No thanks.’ ”