Japanese Buyers to View U.S.-Made Auto Products

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A group of 22 U.S. automotive products manufacturers will get a chance to strut their stuff before representatives of some major Japanese trading companies at an exhibition Wednesday sponsored by the Tokyo government.

The half-day event, to be held at the Hyatt Regency Irvine, is designed to give buyers from the Japanese companies exposure to U.S.-made automotive after-market products--everything from fancy wheels to turbochargers and cam shafts--in hopes that resulting business agreements will help reduce this nation's $43-billion trade deficit with Japan.

All of the companies making presentations Wednesday are members of the Specialty Equipment Market Assn., or SEMA, a Diamond Bar-based national trade group for makers of automotive products sold in the retail market.

Barry Meguiar, president of Meguiar's Inc., an Irvine manufacturer of car waxes, polishes and vinyl and leather protectants, views the show as an opportunity to broaden his company's exposure to Japan's trading companies.

"That is exactly what this show is all about," said SEMA President Chuck Blum.

"I was in Japan recently on a trade trip, and I saw a sincere desire on the part of a lot of companies over there to do more business with U.S. manufacturers of auto add-ons and accessories," Blum said. "They don't see us as a threat to their core businesses, so they welcome the kinds of products our members make."

The Irvine show is sponsored by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), an arm of Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry. It is JETRO's first venture into the automotive accessories field, although the group has organized a series of promotional shows in the United States to boost Japanese imports of U.S.-made goods.

"The show is significant to us," Blum said. "It could mean significant benefits to our members and to the U.S. economy as a whole."

The auto after-market business is a well-developed, $3-billion-a-year industry in the United States, he said, but is not so well-developed in Japan.

During his trip to Japan in January, Blum said, "I saw a lot of aerodynamic accessories being used, things like rear spoilers and air dams, and a lot of personalizing accessories, like wood-grain dashboard coverings and fancy seat covers, custom wheels--all things we excel at manufacturing in the U.S."

While some U.S. manufacturers still see little likelihood of successfully penetrating Japan's notoriously well-protected domestic market, Blum said, "there are a lot of firms, like those we represent, that can do quite well there."

Meguiar's, one of four Orange County firms scheduled to exhibit at the trade fair Wednesday, already sells goods to all of the major auto makers in Japan and to car dealerships. But the products are not available yet in the Japanese retail market, Meguiar said.

"Our policy is to establish our name with the professional products used by manufacturers and car dealers and then to move into the consumer market when we have a good base to build on," he said.

"We find that the Japanese firms we deal with are eager to buy our goods. I go over there a lot, and I can assure you that it is not a closed market to our kind of product."

Blum said the U.S. firms selected by SEMA to participate in the Irvine show were chosen "because they have quality products--that's a major factor for the Japanese market--and because their products are salable in Japan and because they have a real desire to do business there."

Other Orange County companies participating are Ultra Wheel, a Garden Grove manufacturer of alloy wheels; Wolf Automotive, a Santa Ana firm that makes front-end covers, also called auto bras; and A&A; Specialties, a Placentia manufacturer of aerodynamic styling kits for autos and trucks.

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