The top U.S. automakers said they plan to step up their sales drive in Japan by developing a wider selection of right-hand-drive vehicles for the country's roads.
The statements by the Big Three - General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. - come after three days of auto talks between Washington and Tokyo that ended with disagreements on how to increase U.S. car sales in Japan.It also follows a report by Japan's international trade ministry disputing Washington's claims that Japan's massive trade surplus is the result of its closed auto market.
U.S. officials have said autos and auto parts account for some 60 per-cent of Japan's surplus with the United States.
U.S. automakers have long complained of being frozen out of Japan's vehicle market. Japanese vehicles make up about 25 percent of the autos sold each year in the U.S. market, while U.S. cars comprise only about 8 percent of the Japanese market.
Tokyo has maintained the carmakers have done too little to satisfy Japanese tastes, pointing out that most of the American cars sold in Japan have had left-hand steering wheels in a country where they are normally on the right side.
Led by Chrysler's Jeep Cherokee, a handful of U.S.-made right-hand-drive vehicles being mar-keted in Japan are enjoying increasingly bright sales. America's carmakers are keen to expand the trend.
General Motors, America's largest automaker, said it is developing three right-hand-drive vehicles for sale in Japan. The first model, known in the United States as the Chevrolet Cavalier, will be sold starting in 1996 under a Toyota nameplate, GM spokesman Yoshi Kanno said.
No. 2 Ford Motor Co. plans to sell right-hand drive models of the Taurus and Explorer from 1996-1997. The company now sells some right-hand models in Japan.
Chrysler Corp. said it will introduce a right-hand-drive version of its Neon sedan, probably in 1996, and right-hand-drive versions of its Grand Cherokee and Wrangler models.
All three of the major U.S. auto companies are forecasting increased sales in Japan this year and even brighter sales in 1996.
A strong yen, which makes imports cheaper in Japan, a recovering Japanese economy, improving quality of U.S. vehicles and continued pressure on Tokyo to open its markets are expected to fuel sales of American cars.
However, overall, the growth is expected to be slow. U.S. automakers face continuing problems in breaking into the Japan's car market including a distribution system that has favored Japanese vehicles over foreign imports and the tendency of consumers to buy local products.