Will Mitsubishi Outdo Boeing in Jetliners?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/25/2014 01:30:00 AM
The next Japanese "threat" to US domination?
Mitsubishi needs no introduction as a Japanese conglomerate that has heavy industries for nearly everything under the sun aside from diversified interests from banking to brewing. Mitsubishi also has a measure of notoriety for building the A6M Zero fighter plane used for kamikaze attacks towards the end of WWII. During the postwar years, its sophisticated manufacturing facilities allowed it to produce F-15 fighters under license as well.

I bring up this bit of history since the Japanese are supposedly embarking on another episode of outdoing their American counterparts. Having long since consigned Detroit to oblivion, the Japanese are allegedly at it again, this time in aerospace as Mitsubishi builds its first jetliner for regional (read: short hop) use, the Mitsubishi Regional Jet (MRJ). What strikes me as curious about this Japan's-eating-America's-lunch story is that it comes 30 years after the heyday of Japan-bashing Stateside. Still, the parallels may be there in the US being unguarded about technology transfer. Just as American automakers laughed off Japanese "competition" way back when, the likes of Boeing and others in the aerospace field may be too lax:
Now history seems to be repeating itself – this time in America’s ultimate manufacturing stronghold, aerospace. The politico-economic dynamics are déjà vu all over again. The industry is officially “targeted” by the Japanese government. And U.S. corporations seem  to be playing their allotted role to a T – as condescending, complacent buffoons. Specifically Boeing has been transferring key technology to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI). The “heavy” in MHI’s name reflects  the company’s nineteenth century origins in shipbuilding but is a misnomer  these days in that the company is one of the  most formidable behind-the-scenes players in aerospace.

MHI’s hitherto most important claim to fame is as supplier of the wings for the Boeing 787. [I'd argue it's making Zeros and F-15s, but anyway.] The 787 is the most sophisticated passenger jet ever flown and its made-in-Japan wings are its unique selling proposition: they are among the world’s strongest and lightest and thus ensure that the plane achieves almost unheard of fuel efficiency.  Much of the basic  technology was transferred to Mitsubishi by Boeing. Now that  that technology has been improved on by Mitsubishi, the Japanese will almost certainly outclass Boeing  going forward.

This weekend brought further news of Boeing’s folly. Mitsubishi has launched its long awaited regional jet, which is available in both 70- and 90-seater versions. If press reports are to be believed, Boeing has helped Mitsubishi develop the plane. Certainly the new plane poses immediate, potentially lethal competition for existing leaders in regional jets such as Bombardier of Canada and Embraer of Brazil. Mitsubishi is claiming a  20 percent advantage in fuel economy and its planes will also provide passengers with more legroom thanks to better seat design. Longer term it can be assumed that just as the Toyota Lexus emerged to challenge the Cadillac, full-size Mitsubishi jets will emerge to  challenge even Boeing’s super-advanced 787.
Speaking of Bombardier and Embraer, note that this segment is tightly contested, too. Like Airbus and Boeing going at it at the WTO, the Canadians and Brazilians also had their own WTO case with the Brazilians eventually prevailing in court.The thing about Mitsubishi entering this business so late is that it at least avoids the arguably more competitive A320/737-sized market dominated by Airbus and Boeing. The author also neglects to mention Airbus for a curious reason: are the Europeans chopped liver? Honda too has a much-hyped private jet. Still, I do not automatically predict Japanese domination of world markets for the main reason that we're talking about the Japanese.

Remember, Mitsubishi has barely made a dent in the global automobile industry, so I don't see why it should dominate the market for jetliners anytime soon.