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Toyota's Watanabe will talk to Ford

Reports that Ford CEO Alan Mulally and Toyota chairman Fujio Cho met in late December led to a raft of headlines over a possible Toyota-Ford tie-up. However, after both sides and analysts played down the meeting, the talks’ significance seemed to fade.

An interview with Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe in today’s Nihon Keizai, Japan’s leading business daily, could have a similar impact. Watanabe reiterated that Toyota was happy to talk with Ford on possible technology tie-ups, but didn’t exactly sound enthusiastic. Asked if Toyota plans to build on the two firms current hybrid relationships—Toyota provides components for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles to Ford through group firms, such as Aisin Seiki—Watanabe said any new tie-ups would likely center on technological development, but said that Toyota hasn’t received specific requests and that the parties haven’t started talks.

Watanabe was equally lukewarm when asked about extending the two firms’ relationship to other areas beyond environmental technologies. While ruling nothing out, he said it “would depend on the substance of the proposal” and that the possibility “is not zero.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. Of course, Watanabe may just be keeping his cards close to his chest. Yet, for the time being at least, it looks like speculation of a deeper Toyota-Ford alliance will remain exactly that.

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