16.12.08

PROTECTING COMPETITORS IS NOT THE SAME AS PROTECTING COMPETITION. Toyota recognize the difference.

Detroit's Big Three aren't the only automotive companies that want to see the government step in with some much-needed financial help.

Overseas automakers, most notably Toyota Motor, all endorse some form of federal aid to keep General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), Chrysler LLC and possibly Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) out of bankruptcy.

The reasoning is classic.
"We support measures to help the industry," said Toyota Motor (TM) spokeswoman Mira Sleilati. "We just want a strong, competitive healthy industry."
It might be more accurate to characterize Toyota's position as "We just want the appearance of competition."

The overseas automakers, who between them produce more than 3 million vehicles a year at U.S. plants, all worry their production would be hurt if one of the U.S. automakers went under. That's because a Big Three failure would likely lead to widespread bankruptcies in the auto parts supplier industry.

Erich Merkle, lead auto analyst with the consulting firm Crowe Horwath LLP, said there is much overlap between the automakers' suppliers. Since most parts in an automobile have only a single supplier producing them, the disruptions in production will be severe and prolonged.

Put differently, Toyota would prefer not to bear the stand-alone costs of a vendor. That's a non-trivial problem, and there may be no core allocation without the government finance, or another customer for the vendor. The scarier prospect, however, might be new customers for those vendors.

The final concern for the overseas automakers is a longer-term problem. The failure of a U.S. automaker could open the door for a Chinese or Indian automaker to buy up the assets of the failed company and create a new low-cost competitor in the U.S.

"You could open the door for foreign companies to buy distressed assets at rock-bottom prices," he said. He pointed to India's Tata (TTM) and China's Geely as two automakers in the developing world that are already on record as being interested in expanding into western markets like the United States.

"Tata and Geely would be incredibly open to brownfield sites," he said, using the term that describes companies that buy discarded industrial facilities.

Perhaps that's already in the works.

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