TOKYO - As General Motors Corp creeps toward bankruptcy, Japanese auto executives have grown less worried about the turmoil in the supply chain and dealer channels the demise of the No. 1 U.S. car maker would cause.
Just six months ago, the prospect of a Chapter 11 filing in Detroit had many rival automakers quaking in their boots on fears it would drag crucial parts makers into bankruptcy and further damage a battered U.S. economy.
But Chrysler's April 30 filing came and went without much of a hitch, and Japanese automakers, which sell two out of five cars in the United States, appear better prepared now for what has become an increasingly likely bankruptcy at GM as well.
It's not ideal, of course, Honda Motor Co CEO Takeo Fukui said.
There would be less damage to the market if (GM) could continue its business outside a bankruptcy, but I also wonder whether the market could get any worse than it already is, he told Reuters recently.
GM faces a government-imposed June 1 deadline to restructure its debt and operations, but is widely expected to fail to get enough bondholders to agree to a debt swap that it sees as key to surviving. GM has said a rejection -- likely to come on Wednesday -- could force a Chapter 11 filing.
Analysts and executives said the U.S. government's pledge in March to extend $5 billion in aid to affected suppliers had eased some concern over a sudden stoppage of parts production.
That's the biggest point of focus -- the supplier body, said Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan Motor Co.
Because everybody today is being prepared for this (GM's bankruptcy) eventuality...I think a lot of preparation has been made at the level of many suppliers to avoid any dramatic consequence on the rest of the industry, he added.
Automakers have also taken preemptive steps to avoid a supply disruption, including by stocking extra components or readying other channels of procurement.
Honda said it is buying more molds from suppliers it deems shaky so it can take the equipment elsewhere and have the components built there, if it came to that.
There are two scenarios under which you become unable to procure parts: a bankruptcy or a natural disaster. In the United States, the former is more common, so we've been doing this for a while now, said Honda Chief Financial Officer Yoichi Hojo.
To be sure, these are costs that Japanese automakers -- already hurt by a strengthening yen and sinking global car demand -- could do without.
But analysts said the silver lining was a bigger slice of the U.S. market down the line if GM succeeds in re-emerging with just four core brands -- Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.
In the short term, there's going to be some turmoil. But within two or three years, the U.S. market will probably come back and then there will be opportunities for Japanese automakers, said Mitsuru Kurokawa, senior analyst at IHS Global Insight.
That's especially true because GM's Saturn brand will go, and that brand was created specifically to challenge the Japanese, he added.
LIFE AFTER CHAPTER 11
The biggest worry remains the indirect consequence of a GM bankruptcy on the U.S. economy, jobs, and ultimately, consumer appetite to buy cars.
Whatever happens to GM, the impact on the overall (U.S.) economy is going to be huge and it's going to hurt demand, Fuji Heavy Industries CEO Ikuo Mori said.
Already, sales have fallen 37 percent so far this year, unseating the United States as the world's biggest auto market in favor of China.
Still others saw light at the end of the Chapter 11 tunnel, predicting ongoing ventures and relationships between themselves and GM, in some form.
It's not like they're suddenly going to stop building cars and become real estate brokers, said Osamu Suzuki, CEO of Suzuki Motor Corp. Suzuki has more than 10 joint projects with GM, including Suzuki's supply of GM's European brand, Opel.
I intend to carry on our various projects.
(Editing by Lincoln Feast)