Toyota president says company would consider Ford partnership if conditions right

Toyota is willing to consider a broader partnership with Ford if the U.S. automaker requests it and the conditions were right, the company's president said in a newspaper interview published Wednesday.

News that Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho met in Tokyo with Ford President and Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally at the latter's request this past December has stirred speculation of a potential alliance between the rivals.

In an interview held Tuesday with Japan's leading business daily, The Nikkei, Toyota Motor Corp. President Katsuaki Watanabe said partnering with Ford in new areas of business "would be fine provided both sides wanted it."

If the companies decide on a closer tie-up, it would likely center on technological development, the paper reported Watanabe as saying.

The two companies already have a few cooperative agreements. Toyota provides components for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles to Ford Motor Co., the No. 2 automaker in the U.S. Toyota has also licensed several of its hybrid system and emissions purification patents to Ford for use in its hybrid system.

Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said he could not confirm Watanabe's specific remarks, but said the company's stance has been that it would consider closer ties with other auto makers "if it turns out to be a win-win situation."

Officials at Ford, which is restructuring in the wake of an earnings slump, declined to comment on the report.

In October, General Motors Corp. called off discussions with Japan's Nissan Motor Co. and France's Renault SA on a possible three-way alliance. Nissan and Renault already are allied.

Watanabe also spoke in the interview of the company's plans for a small, low-cost vehicle aimed at developing country markets, The Nikkei said, but the company denied that he offered any specific details, reports AP.

The Nikkei said Watanabe discussed Toyota's plans for a car equipped with a 1-liter engine that would have a low sticker price of about 800,000 yen (US$6,670; Ђ5,150). He said the company hoped to release it in Brazil, Russia, India and China around 2010, and possibly in Japan thereafter, the paper reported.

Toyota's Nolasco confirmed that the company has been looking into a low-cost vehicle for emerging markets, but he denied that Watanabe offered specific details about a possible product in the interview.

"Toyota has been studying and considering the possibilities of such a car, but nothing specific has been decided as of yet," he said.

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