On my way to work cruising down Interstate 5, to my left is a Toyota Camry and to my right a Nissan Pathfinder. Reach the parking lot and there are the Accords, Civics and Sentras. Sure there are many Rangers, Camaros and Escorts, but the fact is that there are more Japanese cars on our freeways and in our garages than ever, especially here in Southern California.
When I travel on business to Tokyo, I feel like I've arrived at the real Hollywood. Faces of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner and Jodie Foster flood the streets of Ginza and Shinzuku. I walk into Tower Records and am immediately greeted with Madonna and Michael Jackson CDs; interestingly, the local Japanese CDs occupy only a small, lonely corner on one floor.
Japan is known for its reliable cars and electronics worldwide. You rarely come across a Japanese-made car that's pulled off the road with its hood up and smoking. They are fuel-efficient and of high quality, priced at a relatively affordable level (though the rising yen may hurt that) The same can be said of Sony Walkmans, Panasonic TVs and Mitsubishi VCRs.
On the other hand, American movies, music and pop culture have always held a commanding market share in Japan. When Madonna tours Japan, concert tickets sell out well in advance at $80 to $120 each. In a neighborhood school gym, the shoes that screech on the floors of the basketball and volleyball courts all seem to have the Nike "swoosh" logo. After a rigorous practice, players sit down and have a sip of the Real Thing--Coke.
Japanese markets are not closed and the products that meet consumers' needs, with good quality and price, sell. Period. When it comes down to signing the check or paying the cash, consumers are not interested in whether something was made in the United States, Japan--or Saudi Arabia, for that matter. As a professional and an educator who has lived on both sides of the Pacific, I believe that our perspective here in Southern California is more realistic than that of Washington, D.C. The level of mutual trade is higher and there's a better understanding of the value of friendly trade relations with Asian markets.
The Big Three auto makers should start manufacturing products that meet the taste of Japanese consumers. If BMW and Mercedes Benz can succeed there, so can Ford and GM. It's not about Japan and America, so President Clinton, please stay out of it. It's about products--what's good enough to be sold in a different country and what isn't.