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Japan carmakers to buy more parts made in Asia

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With car sales in Southeast Asia expected to plunge 80 percent this year, Japanese carmakers plan to boost the export of auto parts outside Asia.

Japanese automobile executives also said they would depend less on imported parts from the United States and instead spur industrial activity within Asia by buying car components made in Asia.Senior automobile officials from Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations met Thursday to discuss the region's auto industry.

"Automobile production in Asia has reached a critical situation," said Masao Omichi, director of the automobile division in Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry.

Big Japanese car companies such as Toyota, Nissan and Mazda have 900 factories overseas, 60 percent of these in Southeast Asia.

Car sales in the region have dropped precipitously since an economic crisis began sweeping through Asia a year ago. It has caused stock markets and currencies in various countries to tumble by more than 50 percent.

The number of cars sold in Southeast Asia is expected to plunge as much as 80 percent in 1998 from the 1.5 million sold last year, according to statistics compiled by the ASEAN Automotive Federation.

"If this slowdown continues, it could do major damage to the future of the (region's) auto industry," Omichi warned, adding that the regional market should support at least 1 million vehicles to ensure efficiency and keep costs down.

Japanese car executives at the conference, attended by more than 160 companies from nine countries, have pledged to help their Southeast Asian counterparts improve the quality of products so they can be sold in developed countries.

Some of these measures include training more than 2,000 people, and strengthening the links between Japanese and Southeast Asian suppliers and dealers, Omichi said.