DEARBORN, Michigan: The ceo of the troubled Ford Motor Company has visited Tokyo for a "get acquainted" meeting with the chairman of Japan's Toyota Motor, currently on the road to becoming the world's biggest automaker.

Alan Mulally, who flew in from Boeing in September to head Ford, has talked with Fujio Cho about Toyota's fuel-cell and hybrid petrol-electric technologies, as well as its work in cutting costs, according to Japanese business daily Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

Speculation about a formal alliance between the two giants is bound to raise its head following arch rival General Motors' attempts to enter into such a partnership with Nissan and Renault earlier this year [WARC News: 05-Oct-06].

However, a Toyota official told the Japanese newspaper: "At this point in time, we're at a stage where we're just talking over what the two companies could do together."

Ford is even more non-committal. Spokesman Oscar Suris would only say: "I can't confirm or deny the report other than to say that we have discussions with participants in our industry all the time."

Mulally is an ardent admirer of Toyota's manufacturing system. He visited the automaker regularly during his time at Boeing, and adopted some of its processes in the production of commercial jets.

Analysts are sceptical of any alliance plans. Comments Erich Merkle of IRN: "You have to ask yourself what would be in it for Toyota. They're doing pretty well on their own."

Rather, they say, Toyota is probably hoping to deflect criticism from Washington as it prepares to overtake GM.

Data sourced from Financial Times online; additional content by WARC staff