Toyota Won't Join or Block General Motors Alliance with Renault-Nissan

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Toyota has no interest in blocking or joining the proposed partnership between General Motors (GM) and the Renault-Nissan alliance, the Japanese automaker's president said Thursday.

The remarks from Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) President Katsuaki Watanabe come at a time when GM is in talks about a possible partnership with an alliance between Renault SA of France and Nissan Motor Co.

Speculation has been growing that Toyota may be considering proposing to General Motors Corp. an alternative option for a partnership, perhaps to block Japanese rival Nissan's growth ambitions.

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Watanabe said he didn't want to comment about talks among other automakers but denied Toyota was interested in joining the proposed mega-alliance.

"We are not thinking about participating," he told reporters at a Tokyo hotel when asked about whether Toyota may either join or block the talks among GM, Renault and Nissan.

Watanabe also bowed in apology at the news conference to express regrets — but not acknowledging wrongdoing — for troubles linked to a criminal investigation into a recall case in 2004.

"I take this seriously and see it as a crisis," he said. "I want to apologize deeply for the troubles we have caused."

Prosecutors are investigating whether Toyota officials hid defects that may have caused a head-on collision in 2004 that injured five people.

Toyota has cooperated with General Motors in a few endeavors over the years, including developing ecological technology. The companies also jointly operate an auto plant in Fremont, California, called New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, which was set up in 1984.

Watanabe said NUMMI and other friendly ties with GM will continue unchanged, but he said he does not foresee new tie-ups involving major stakes for his company.

When questioned by a reporter, Watanabe acknowledged Toyota remains open to such possibilities under different conditions. He refused to say what those conditions may be. He said he has not talked with GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner since March.

Outside of its group of Japanese subsidiaries, Toyota does not have any auto alliances involving holding stakes.

The GM talks with Renault-Nissan began last week, after prodding by billionaire shareholder Kirk Kerkorian, and what may emerge remains unclear.

Joining together GM, Renault and Nissan would produce a mega-alliance like no other, spanning the three big auto markets of the world — Europe, Japan and the U.S. — with a combined annual production of 15 million vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, who heads both Renault and Nissan, has said the cooperation should involve holding stakes in each other's company. But Ghosn has denied he wants Wagoner's job.

General Motors, which lost $10.6 billion last year, has been battered by staggering health care costs for its workers, retirees and family as it fights to maintain market share eroded by rivals, especially Japanese automakers.

Toyota, meanwhile, has recently seen its sterling reputation sullied by a series of recalls, and Watanabe apologized Thursday for troubles related a police investigation into the August 2004 accident and subsequent recall.

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