Japanese goods 'made in USA' -- Tokyo tries a different tack

Not all of the action regarding US-Japanese relations will be in Washington, where Japan's Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki and President Reagan meet this week. Part of it will be at sites in Tennessee adn Ohio, where Japanese truck and car assembly plants are being built.

And that construction is just the latest example of what US analysts of Japanese business trends see as a major shift toward more Japanese cars, trucks, toys, computers, and other products being made in the United States in Japanese plants.

Already there are more than 200 Japanese companies in the US. Sixty of them opened in the last three years, according to the Conference Board, a business research organization in New York.

Direct investments in the US by Japanese nearly tripled between 1976 and 1979 , reaching $3.4 billion that year, according to the federal Department of Commerce. This trend has three main implications, according to these analysts:

* It means Americans already sold on Japanese cars, cameras, TV's, and computers will be able to buy them stamped "Made in USA."

* It means more American companies are likely to study Japanese quality control and other management techniques --some of which originated in the US.

* It may mean a way around the kind of US pressure applied to Japan just prior to this week's summit meeting -- pressure that resulted in Japan agreeing to somewhat limit its car exports to the US in the next few years.

Japanese production of cars in America is not covered by the agreement, says Robert E. Cole, director of the center for Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan. He predicts major increases in Japanese production in the US of computers and computer parts to avoid similar import-slowing pressure on Japan by Washington.

Producing Japanese cars in US in "a solution that goes a long way toward solving the problem" of fears by the United Automobile Workers of loosing jobs because of Japanese imports, Mr. Cole said.

Of course, if the Hondas to be produced in Ohio and the Datsun trucks to be made in Tennessee pull customers away from cars and trucks "made in USA," the complaints from American industry are not likely to end.

But Bill Brock, the US trade negotiator who helped shape the recent agreement with Japan, has said Detroit's problems are not caused by Japan. Mr. Brock blames high interest rates and the way the Us companies have been run.

It is the way Japanese companies in Japan and in the US are run that is increasingly attracting the interest of American manufacturers. Some 400 US companies already are studying such techniques, Dr. Cole says. But the success of Japanese methods in exaggerated, he adds.

Public relations is one of the reasons the methods are used, he says. "Most [Japanese] managers in the US are very nervous, very cautions, and very conservative," says Cole, and they spend more time "trying to blend in" to the American scene than being different.

But Vladimir Pucik, a researcher at Columbia University, disagrees. Many Japanese business leaders here tried US methods. But poor quality and high job turnover led them to return to their own methods.

Rex Yamamoto Leghorn, a sociologist at Emory University in Atlanta, suggests a key to the Japanese management techniques is that the Japanese manager trusts the workers' potential and includes them in more discussions on production. They ar made to feel needed -- part of a team, he explains.

Such techniques as management and workers wearing the same uniforms, company exercise periods, frequent management-worker talks, are working well, says Mr. Leghorn.

He adds, "Americans have only begun to realize the importance of worker involvement in their plants."

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