Joint ventures lead automakers to the world car

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The proliferating joint-venture agreements and negotiations among the world's automakers have a common objective: to achieve economies in the development and production of future vehicles tailored to mass markets.

Here is a summary of this year's developments in the area of automotive togethemess:

* General Motors and two Japanese automakers, Suzuki and Isuzu, agreed to cooperate in the development of minicompacts.

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Suzuki, a specialist in producing socalled "minis" which sell in Japan for less than $2,000 and attain up to 55 miles on a gallon of gasoline, sold a 5.3 percent stock interest to GM and swapped small stock interests with Isuzu in which GM already holds a 34.2 percent equity.

* Ford Motor Company and Toyota called off year-long talks on a possible joint-venture vehicle to be built in the US, although the door was held open for resumption of discussions at a future date.

The two giant manufactuers were unable to agree on what kind of vehicle to assemble, leaving Toyota without a US plant project in the face of rising demands from the United Automobile Workers for a local-content law requiring that between 50 and 75 percent of the componentry of all cars selling more than a specified volume emanate from the US.

Ford did, however, conclude agreements to buy diesel engines from West Germany's BMW for its future larger cars and from its Japanese partner, Toyo Kogyo, for smaller cars and trucks such as the Escort and the 1983 front-drive successor to the Fairmont, called the Futura in 1982.

* Chrysler Corporation renewed agreements to buy engines and to import cars from Mitsubishi, in which it holds a minority equity. Chrysler has imported Mitsubishi cars since 1970 and uses its 2.6-liter, 4-cylinder engine as an option for its domestic K-cars, as well as in the imported Colts, Champs, Sapporos, and Challengers.

In addition, Chrysler and Peugeot signed a letter of intent to develop and build in the US a new subcompact car for the 1986-model year.

Peugeot also will sell Chrysler 450,000 small diesel engines over a 5 -year-period, beginning in the 1984-model year. Chrysler owns 14 percent of Peugeot stock, an equity which the American company acquired in exchange for sale to Peugeot of its European assembly plant complex in 1978.

* Volkswagen and Nissan agreed to assemble cars jointly, starting with a precedent-setting commitment by the Japanese company to build 60,000 of VW's new Dasher-replacing Quantum compacts in Japan in the 1983-model year. VW also was reportedly looking at a prospective front-drive replacement fo the Datsun 210 subcompact as a US assembly possibility.

The 1981-model year was siguificant in the introduction of "world cars" by both GM and Ford. GM debuted the J-cars in at least five producing countries--the US, Canada, Britain, Japan (at Isuzu), and Australia. Ford's Escort and Lynx, directly heralded as "world cars," were launched simultaneously in Britain and West Germany.

In addition to VW-Nissan, closer ties were spliced by other European and Japanese automakers.

Britain's BL Ltd., formerly British Leyland, will introduce a Honda-designed car, the Acclaim, in 1982. Sweden's Saab and Italy's Lancia are engaged in a joint marketing arrangement of the Lancia 600 model, while Alfa Romeo and Nissan are tooling up for a new Italian-built Nissan car.

The De Lorean sportster is powered by a Renault-Peugeot-Volvo V-6 engine from France, and Renault has followed up on a number of joint manufacturing ventures with its fellow French automaker, Peugeot, by purchase of a 10 percent interest in Volvo cars of Sweden.

Besides the Renault purchase of Mack Truck stock, two other US heavy-duty truck manufacturers became objects of investments by European vehicle producers this year. Daimler-Benz acquired Freightliner Corporation and Volvo took over the bankrupt White Motor Corporation.

"The future," says Dale E. Dawkins, vice-president of the AMC product group, "is a group of multinational companies-perhaps as many as a dozen--competing against one another on every continent, with North America, Europe, and Japan simply being parts of the whole....

"The car business is becoming a world car business at an accelerating and exciting rate."

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