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U.S. Metal for Japan

February 02, 1986|JOHN M. BRODER

It's probably not exactly what Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone had in mind late last year when he urged Japanese industries and consumers to buy American products to right a deepening trade imbalance and forestall protectionist retaliation. But it does fit the letter of the appeal, if not the spirit.

Nippon Kokan K. K. (NKK), Japan's second-largest steelmaker, has joined with American automotive and aerospace manufacturer Martin Marietta to make specialized alloy auto components in Torrance for export to Japan.

The joint venture, International Light Metals Corp., is 60% owned by Martin Marietta and 40% owned by NKK. The Japanese firm bought its share of Martin Marietta's Torrance plant in 1984 as part of a diversification strategy that included the acquisition of General Electric's Great Western Silicon plant at Chandler, Ariz.

Jack Whitehouse, an NKK spokesman in Los Angeles, said the plan to export the aluminum-titanium components back to Japan is a "direct response" to Nakasone's appeal. He said that, until now, the parts had been sold only to U.S. auto makers and aerospace firms.

NKK's Tokyo headquarters will seek orders for the engine brackets and suspension parts from Japanese car makers, Whitehouse said. Later, he added, NKK hopes to expand the plant's export product line beyond the auto industry.

"Martin Marietta was making these forgings strictly for the domestic market," Whitehouse said. "NKK's contribution has been in production technology and international marketing"--particularly in its home country.

Whitehouse noted that the arrangement, while rare, is not unprecedented. Sony produces television picture tubes in San Diego County and ships some of them back to Japan, he said.

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