Japanese vehicle manufacturers have invested in three large new vehicle and engine manufacturing plants in the US despite a lingering recession in Japan and economic uncertainties in the US, according to “Japan’s Automobile Manufacturers: Global Companies Meeting New Challenges with Advanced Technologies,” a report released by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA).

“Nearly $US20 billion have been invested in US plants over the past 22 years. These plants produce 2.4 million vehicles and 2.2 million engines annually. JAMA members’ US plants account for 12.4% of US vehicle exports. Overall, Japanese automakers and their dealers employ more than 360,000 people in this country,” said JAMA USA general director William C. Duncan.

JAMA member companies have put a high priority on developing advanced technology and environmentally friendly vehicles including the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight hybrids, which combine petrol and electric propulsion. Both these cars are now a familiar sight on American roads.

The Japanese firms have also developed a variety of hybrid trucks, compressed natural gas powered vans, and fuel cell powered vehicles. Two of these fuel cell powered vehicles, Toyota’s SUV, based on the Kluger-V in Japan and the Highlander in the US, and Honda’s FCX, will be introduced in the US around the end of 2002.

Nissan has shown the hydrogen fuel cell powered Xterra FCV and Subaru the hybrid all-wheel-drive HM-01 concept compact.

The report also details the growing globalisation of the vehicle industry. For example, Fuji Heavy, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi Motors, Nissan, Nissan Diesel, and Suzuki have equity relationships with other global vehicle makers such as DaimlerChrysler, Ford, GM and Renault.

The report highlights other statistics including:

*Purchases of US automotive parts total $35.66 billion, a fourteen-fold increase since 1986.

*Japanese vehicle makers now supply 64% of their total U.S. sales from North American plants, compared with less than 12 percent in 1986.

*Japanese car plants now employ 48,000 workers in the US compared with 11,000 in 1987.