Both Lucas Industries of the UK and Varity Corporation of the US enjoyed long-standing relationships with the Japanese auto industry prior to their merger as LucasVarity in 1996. Today, the partnership extends across the merged company's automotive product range of light and heavy vehicle braking systems, electrical and electronic systems.
A key part of the LucasVarity's strategy has been the forging of joint ventures and strategic alliances through technology agreements with Japanese suppliers such as Sumitomo Electric, Tekico Nissin Koygo and Nissham Kagyo.
Other manufacturers - Mazda, Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota and Honda among them - have all been supplied direct from LucasVarity plants.
Those who work at LucasVarity believe that joint working relationships with Japanese customers and partners have challenged LucasVarity engineers to adjust their attitudes in order to strive for the 'best' rather than to merely accept 'what is good enough'.
The Japanese, says Jon Chandler, group corporate relations manager, regarded the supplier as an essential part of the manufacturing process.
'Rather than viewing whatever came off the delivery wagon as the start of the relationship, they insisted that the their involvement begins when the raw materials arrived at our place.'
The consequent collaboration between LucasVarity and the Japanese has, Chandler firmly believes, improved skills levels at the former considerably to the point where 'while it is fairly well recognised that Japanese companies set the benchmark in practices and philosophies, companies like ours have now closed the gap in terms of product quality.'
With standards driven up and kaizen (the commitment to continuous improvement) accepted without question, Chandler has few doubts about the impact of Japanese foreign investment on the UK manufacturing base. 'Their whole approach to sourcing has had a significant impact on our business through improved competitiveness and level of skills. The experience has been positive all the way through.'.