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Toyota would consider tie with Ford if asked

From Reuters| January 19,2007

Toyota Motor Corp. is open to a broader partnership with Ford Motor Co. if the struggling U.S. automaker asks, the Nikkei business daily reported today, citing an interview with Toyota's president.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told the paper that if the two automakers formed a tie-up, it would likely focus on an alliance in technological development, but he said no talks had taken place yet.

Toyota spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said Toyota executives always meet with heads of other automakers when opportunities occur and consider tie-ups if they are proposed, although it did not necessarily mean they would form an alliance.

The Japanese automaker said in December the chairman of the company, Fujio Cho, met with Ford CEO Alan Mulally but they did not discuss the possibility of forming any alliance.

The comment was made after the paper reported the two heads met as the first step in potential partnership negotiations.

Ford currently licenses part of Toyota's market-leading hybrid engine technology for the gasoline-electric versions of its Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner SUVs.

Analysts have said Ford, which has relied heavily on its lineup of pickups and SUVs, would stand to gain from a cooperative partnership with Toyota if it focused on fuel economy and other technology seen as environmentally friendly.

Toyota is poised to overtake General Motors as the world's largest automaker in terms of production in 2007, and many analysts expect it will also unseat Ford as No. 2 in the U.S. market as well.

Watanabe also told the paper Toyota plans to sell in Japan small, low-priced cars which it is designing for emerging markets, as demand for minivehicles is growing rapidly.

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