The proposed production venture joining General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. could lead to a rewrite of federal antitrust laws, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Philip Caldwell said yesterday.
Such a revision could speed up the globalization of the auto industry, which already is characterized by increased cooperation between domestic and foreign companies, said Caldwell, who appeared on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC-TV).
"I certainly approve of the idea of cooperation" between companies, when cooperation helps reduce overall production costs, Caldwell said. "Cooperation is the policy that I think we will all come to," he said.
But "there are special circumstances in the GM-Toyota situation which I think puts to the test all of our past interpretations of the antitrust laws," Caldwell said, referring to GM and Toyota's plans to build small cars at a former GM plant in Fremont, Calif.
The two companies last February entered the joint-production agreement, which requires approval by the Federal Trade Commission before it can take effect. The FTC, which is reviewing the proposal for possible antitrust violations, is expected to make its first ruling in the matter next month.
The "special circumstances" in the GM-Toyota plan are that GM is the world's largest manufacturer of automotive products and Toyota, behind Ford, is the third largest, Caldwell said. Last year, GM and Toyota capured 50.8 percent of the U.S. new-car market, with GM taking 44.1 percent and Toyota taking 6.7 percent.
Toyota is the largest single exporter of cars to the United States.
Another point: In the hotly contested subcompact market, where automakers battle for important first-time buyers, GM took 21.7 percent of the of U.S. sales last year and Toyota grabbed 13.7 percent. In addition to the 200,000 small cars it plans to build with Toyota each year, GM plans to import another 300,000 Japanese models for U.S. sales under the GM label.
As a result, auto industry analysts say that GM and Toyata together easily could occupy as much as 40 percent of the domestic small car market by the 1985 model year.
"Is a concentration of that magnitude in accordance with the antitrust laws that we've understood in the past?" Caldwell asked yesterday. "I think it will take a new interpretation" of those laws to accomodate a GM-Toyota venture, which is supposed to last 12 years, Caldwell said. "And if there is such a new interpretation . . . Ford and General Motors should be able to get together on a market segment," Caldwell said, tongue in cheek.
Ford, Chrysler Corp. and American Motors Corp., GM's chief domestic competitors, all have charged before Congress and the FTC that the GM-Toyota proposal violates federal antitrust laws. GM has denied the charges and has pointed out that all three of its competitors are involved in, or have pursued, domestic-foreign ventures of their own.
Caldwell acknowledged yesterday that his company is trying to work out an agreement with Toyo-Kogyo, maker of Japan's Mazda automotive products, to manufacture small cars in Mexico. But he implied that a Ford-Mazda deal would not violate federal antitrust laws because of the size of the two companies involved and the proposed location of the venture.
Probably the best thing the U.S. government could do is change antitrust laws to encourage intercorporate cooperation in high-risk, high-cost businesses such as the auto industry, said Caldwell. "If there is to be a change in the direction of the interpretation of the antitrust laws of the United States, then that change should be available for all producers . . . 'If you can't lick them, join them,' as the expression goes."