Ford Urges U.S. Pressure on Japan Ahead of Meeting

Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. carmaker, pushed for President Barack Obama to pressure Japan’s prime minister to open its auto market and refrain from weakening the yen to give its companies an advantage.

Less than 4 percent of auto sales in Japan last year were brands from companies based outside the country, Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, said today at an Ohio engine plant. The Dearborn, Michigan-based company also is concerned about the yen, which has weakened about 8 percent against the dollar since Dec. 26, when Shinzo Abe became prime minister.

“We hope the U.S. government will send a clear message that any future trade policy with Japan must ensure a level playing field and not come at the expense of American workers,” Hinrichs told workers at the Brook Park, Ohio, factory. Ford plans to invest about $200 million and add 450 new jobs there by late 2014.

Ford is boosting production in Asia, with an emphasis in China, where it will spend more than $4.9 billion to introduce 15 new models by 2015 in an effort to compete in the region with General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. Ford sells “a few hundred vehicles a month” in Japan, Hinrichs told reporters today.

The yen has weakened more than any currency since mid-November and trades at about 93 to the dollar. Japan’s Abe, 58, and Obama, 51, meet tomorrow and will seek to bolster their alliance as a bulwark against China’s territorial claims and North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.

Executive’s View

“Our workers and our businesses should not be disadvantaged by governments intervening in currencies,” Ford’s Hinrichs, 46, told reporters. “Today, we don’t feel our sales are being impacted or affected by this, but we’re concerned about what the long-term ramifications are.”

U.S. auto sales will be “strong” in February, and Hinrichs said he expects Ford will exceed the industrywide gain, without providing specifics. Ford’s deliveries of cars and light trucks rose 22 percent in January, outpacing the total market’s 14 percent increase.

“There’s a lot of incentive activity in the marketplace” on pickups, he said. “But it’s truck month. It will be a strong month.”