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Toyota President, GM CEO to Meet in Tokyo

The heads of Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Corp. will meet in Tokyo to discuss technology exchanges and to further strengthen cooperation, news reports said Wednesday, amid worries here of a political backlash over Japanese automakers huge success in the U.S. market.

Kyodo News agency reported that Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe and General Motor Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner were to meet in Tokyo in their first meeting since Watanabe took office as head of Japan’s biggest automaker. The national daily Yomiuri Shimbun carried a similar report.

Toyota spokeswoman Atsuko Watanabe declined to confirm the reports. A spokeswoman at General Motors in Tokyo also declined comment.

Kyodo said the men were expected to discuss continuing joint research on technologies such as fuel cell and future plans for factories the two companies jointly run in the U.S., without citing sources.

Wagoner was in Japan on his way back from a trip to China, and has met with the heads of Japanese automakers Isuzu Motors Ltd. and Suzuki Motor Corp, Kyodo said.

The report comes at a time when some people are worried about intensifying trade friction as Japanese automaker increasingly grab market share away from struggling U.S. automakers. Toyota officials have been nervous about the booming profits at Toyota at a time when GM is losing money.

Detroit-based General Motors and Toyota signed an agreement in 1999 to work together on ecological technology and the executives meet often. Watanabe and Wagoner met in May in Toyoda city in central Japan, where Toyota headquarters is located, although details of their talks have not been disclosed.

Larry Burns, vice president overseeing research and development at General Motors Corp., while in Tokyo for the auto show last month, told The Associated Press that GM has been talking with Toyota about working together on technology but is not prepared to announce anything so far.

He also denied any agreement on hybrid technology was imminent. Toyota leads the world in hybrids, in which a vehicle switches back and forth between an electric motor and gasoline engine to lower gas emissions and boost mileage.

Toyota officials have also recently denied any upcoming cooperation on hybrids with GM. But a deal on other important technology, such as fuel cells, could be in the works.

Toyota and GM run a car assembly plant together in California. Toyota Executive Vice President Akio Toyoda said recently that no change is expected in the 50-50 joint venture between the two companies.

Last month, GM said it was ending its alliance with Japanese automaker Fuji Heavy Industries by selling its entire 20 percent stake in the maker of Subaru cars.

Toyota said it was buying an 8.7 percent stake in Fuji from GM for about $315 million, a move that some say is aimed at helping GM during hard times and soften a possible political backlash.

GM denies Toyota is offering help. GM has accused the Japanese government of unfair currency manipulation to keep the yen weak and to give Japanese automakers a pricing edge in the U.S

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