Isuzu U.S. plant possible following Ala. land buy

By From freep| Apr 12 2007
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Isuzu Motors Ltd. confirmed Monday that it paid $7.8 million for land in Birmingham, Ala., a signal that the Japanese automaker could restart production in the United States.

Isuzu, famous in the 1980s for its Joe Isuzu commercials, has all but disappeared from the U.S. passenger-vehicle market, selling a limited line of SUVs and trucks. The company sold 8,614 vehicles in the United States last year.

Isuzu ended a joint venture with Subaru owner Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. in 2003 that built vehicles at a Lafayette, Ind., plant. The bulk of the company's global sales now come from commercial trucks and diesel engines.

Toyota Motor Corp. bought a 5.9% stake in Isuzu last year, primarily for its diesel technology. General Motors Corp. sold off 7.9% of Isuzu earlier in 2006 but still builds a small number of trucks sold in the United States under the Isuzu badge.

A spokesman for Tokyo-based Isuzu confirmed Monday the company had bought the property but would not provide details about the use of the land, according to the Associated Press.

A new U.S. plant likely would make small commercial trucks, said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for Grand Rapids-based IRN Inc.

"I think the retail market is just too competitive for Isuzu," Merkle said. "Their core competencies really are trucks and diesel engines. That's going to be their focus."
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