DALLAS -- No other nation has the unity and vision that are powering Japan's economic success as an exporter, the president of Ford Motor Co. says.
"It's been expressed in so many different ways, but what it really is is the cohesiveness of the Japanese nation, the Japanese people," Philip Benton Jr., Ford president and chief operating officer, said in an interview Saturday in Dallas.
"They have a vision that Japan has to maintain a very high level of exports in order to survive, let alone prosper. They all understand that, and they have a sense of sacrifice to achieve that."
Japan, its automotive exports and the U.S. economy are hot topics at the National Automobile Dealers Association's 75th annual convention, which ends today. New-car dealers from across the nation are debating the state of the economy and the future of their industry.
Domestic manufacturers generally ask that Americans give their improved products another try, while importers say they are political scapegoats in an election year.
Saturday, Richard D. Recchia, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Mitsubishi Motor Sales of America Inc., became the first importer to deliver the NADA keynote address. In a sometimes urgent appeal, he said "the rhetoric" against Japanese automakers has "reached down to tap latent racial prejudice."
"Please don't misunderstand me," he said. "There is nothing wrong with Americans' being patriotic. And there is nothing wrong with trying to create more jobs for Americans rather than sending employment overseas.
"But, it is wrong to claim that the Japanese are responsible for everyproblem with the U.S. economy or that they are responsible for rising unemployment in the U.S. auto industry. Those are purely emotional claims that are not based on fact."
Mr. Benton of Ford said some of America's competitive problems run to the very heart of the system. "We as a nation, and it's true in Western Europe, we tend to be more attuned to suppliers of our capital," he said. While corporate America puts stockholders and banks ahead of the long-term interest of the nation, the opposite is true in Japan.
"The Japanese are much more attuned to this national imperative that translates itself to: 'We've got to export, therefore you've got to go out and establish market share and volume. You've got to provide jobs.' "
And Mr. Benton is one executive who hasn't given up on something useful arising from President Bush's visit to Tokyo last month.
"I am not pessimistic. I wouldn't say I'm optimistic, but I don't chalk it up as a lost cause," he said. "We have yet to hear from the Japanese with respect to what they are going to do about their voluntary restraint levels. It's now at 2.3 [million cars]. It may be meaningless, I don't know. It will be interesting to observe that and what the individual companies do about that -- how aggressive they are in shipping."