The inevitable march to American-made “imports” continues, as one Toyota official recently declared his desire to see every single Toyota sold in America to be a made-in-USA product.
The national character of auto brands is a tricky thing. For decades, Volvo wore its Swedishness on its sleeve, emphasizing the values that made Ikea, Abba and Swedish porn so popular in the US… even when it was an outpost of the Ford empire. And then the unthinkable happened: Chinese up-and-comer Li Shufu bought the brand and rolled it into his Geely empire. In the world of national-character-branding, being bought by a Chinese firm is something like hiring Casey Anthony as a brand ambassador, or using a mascot called “Mr Melamine Milk” (another nightmare scenario can be found here). So, how does a brand like Volvo, that was built on Swedishness, get past the “China Factor”? By doubling down on Swedishness? How about by building cars in the US?
Bloomberg reports that Fiat is considering moving production of planned Alfa/Jeep-branded compact CUVs from its Italian Mirafiori plant to the US, as a rising Euro forces tough production choices. Production of some 280,000 units per year were planned to start at Mirafiori in late 2012, but Fiat may now build an as-yet unannounced subcompact there instead. According to Bloomberg’s reporting, Fiat/Chrysler CEO Sergio
Marchionne, while confirming his commitment to invest at the Turin facility, told Piedmont Region President Roberto Cota Aug. 29 that he may change the production plans for the plant.
“Fiat is evaluating which model it will build at Mirafiori,” Cota said after meeting the CEO.
Japanese automakers will move their production elsewhere if the yen keeps rising. This is what Toshiyuki Shiga, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, told The Nikkei [sub] in a very blunt interview. Shiga, who is also the COO of Nissan, said that power shortfalls and the strong yen are the biggest impediment to Japan’s most important industry. (Read More…)
In an (especially for Japanese tastes) strongly worded joint statement, Toshiyuki Shiga. Chairman of Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, and Koichiro Nishihara, President of the Confederation of Japan Automobile Workers’ Unions threw down the gauntlet to the Japanese government. Executive summary: “We are sick as hell of the high yen and we can’t take it anymore. Do something, or kiss those jobs sayonara.” (Read More…)
Although the Korean Won has stayed strong this year, hurting the profitability of Korean exports, Hyundai has banked $1.2b in profits in the first three quarters of 2010, reports Automotive News [sub]. Analysts had expected the resurgent automaker to earn closer to $1b in profits, but they say that an even stronger Yen has helped Hyundai cut into the sales of its Japanese competitors. And with a new Elantra, Equus, Sonata Wagon, Veloster sports coupe and other much-anticipated products about to hit the market, Hyundai is expected to keep its momentum rolling. Fujio Ando, adviser at Chibagin Asset management explains
Did we mention that there is a steady drumbeat by Japanese companies that openly think about, or deny (with huge qualifications) moving more and more production outside of Japan? Did we imply that a lot of this noisy thinking might be targeted at the current Japanese administration with which the carmakers are as much at odds as a carmaker can be with an administration that comes with full union backing and is full of former union officials? (Oops, never mind.) Anyway, Japanese carmakers are accusing their government of losing the war of the soft currency (led by the U.S. that lets its dollar slide while accusing others of manipulating their currencies – a good offense beats any defense.) Now the rhetoric is getting less circumspect. (Read More…)
For a while, TTAC has been tracking a strange story: Instead of exporting cars, Japanese carmakers (or should we call them factorymakers?) increasingly resort to exporting car factories. The higher and higher yen makes exports prohibitively expensive. On the other hand, a higher and higher yen buys more and more production capacity abroad. From Nissan to Mitsubishi, there is a chorus that sings the song that suddenly, people in low wage countries can make high quality cars. Now nobody would assume that Japanese carmakers plan a wholesale desertion of the land of Nippon, right? Wrong.
A report in Japan’s Kyodo news agency [via Reuters/Automotive News [sub]] must have raised a few eyebrows in Japan: thanks to a rising Yen, Toyota is reportedly eying an end to Corolla exports from Japan by 2013. Toyota has since emphasized that
it has made no decision to halt production in Japan of its Corolla automobiles for overseas sales but said it was always considering an optimum global production structure.
The yen hit 81 to the dollar today, both on Yen strength and dollar weakness. ( A Euro buys 1.41 dollars again – get ready for Eurotrash invading Manhattan.)
Toyota has already shifted the bulk of its Corolla production overseas: last year it built 815k Corollas outside of Japan, and only 235k in its home country (60 percent of which were exported). Still, Toyota has long considered stability in its Japanese workforce as core institutional value, and previous currency rises led to changes in design and quality philosophy rather than reductions in Japanese production levels. But then Toyota is no longer in a position to release currency pressure by targeting “fat” or “overquality” product the way it could in the early 90s. The “overquality” simply isn’t there anymore. Like everyone else, Toyota’s major competitive option is to move production closer to cheap labor and large markets.
The ever rising yen makes Japanese manufacturers flirt with the idea of abandoning the land of the rising sun and to shift production abroad. Toyota President Akio Toyoda told Asahi Shimbun that Toyota wants to keep building cars in Japan — for domestic sales. Even that is up for discussion. (Read More…)
You know who is really freaked about the stronger and stronger Japanese yen? Mazda. Mazda is considered the Japanese manufacturer with the highest exposure to currency swings. Mazda builds 70 percent of its vehicles in Japan. In the first half of 2010, Mazda exported nearly 80 percent of its Japanese output. Ouch. A year ago, a dollar bought 110 yen. Today, it buys only 84. As the yen continues its march upwards against other currencies, Mazda is enacting emergency cost reduction measures to protect their profits from being gobbled up by a steadily advancing yen on its earnings. Here is the plan: (Read More…)
Psssst! Want to buy Japanese car makers below book value? Now is the time. Spooked by the strong Japanese Yen, stocks of export-heavy Japanese automakers such as Toyota and Suzuki can be had for less than the assets on the books. (Read More…)
There was a time, in summer of 2007, when a dollar bought more than 120 yen. Once you arrived in Tokyo, you quickly wished it would have bought more. Now, the dollar buys about a third less. The dollar/yen rate had been at a downward trajectory since that summer of 2007. What made the yen really expensive was a company called Lehman Brothers, and the fallout following their bankruptcy in 2008. For inexplicable reasons, the yen is seen as a safer currency than the greenback. Should you make the mistake of stepping off the plane with Euros in your pocket, you would be in for an even bigger shock. In July 2008, a Euro bought 170 yen. Now, it’s down to 109. For even more inexplicable reasons, some mentally unstable people still talk about an undervalued yen.
You may not travel to Tokyo frequently enough to give a hoot. But Japanese auto manufacturers don’t want to take it any more. (Read More…)
In another case of unthought-through consequences, the cheered-on push for a stronger Chinese currency and higher wages strengthens the competitiveness and quality of Chinese products through increased automation of assembly lines.
Bloomberg reports that Nissan, together with the joint venture partner Dongfeng, is building a 5 billion yuan ($732m) plant in Guangzhou with the newest in automation. The factory is scheduled to open in 2012. In addition, Nissan spent about 1 billion yuan ($147m) on a second production line with the latest equipment at their Zhengzhou factory.
This is not an isolated incident. “The automation rate in China is on the rise,” said Nissan spokesman Mitsuru Yonekawa. “We need to boost productivity in China,” COO Toshiyuki Shiga said. “Just because labor costs are higher in China, we won’t be leaving.”