The fate of General Motors could mean tricky political business for Toyota, says Professor Hugh Patrick, faculty director of the Center on Japanese Economy and Business. Patrick is moderating a panel event tonight about the two automakers.

“The downsizing of GM opens economic opportunities for Toyota in the U.S. market, but it may also create serious political risks for Toyota’s market share, now a little under 20%, goes to 25% or 30%,” Patrick says. “Job creation is a major political as well as economic issue in the U.S., and there almost certainly will be various pressures on Toyota to assemble more vehicles in the U.S. and to purchase more parts and components in the U.S. — and to import fewer from Japan.”

William Holstein, author of Why GM Matters: Inside the Race to Transform an American Icon and panelist at tonight’s CJEB event, says the government’s recent actions have ignored the progress the company has made, such as absorbing lean manufacturing lessons from Toyota through the companies’ joint venture, NUMMI.

“Rick Wagoner was leading an ambitious restructuring plan at GM and there was very real chance that he was going to be successful in doing this by 2010,” Holstein says. “The Obama administration completely ignored the very substantial progress Wagoner had made with changing the cost structures of the company, changing its manufacturing process, revitalizing its car design and investing in the future of the lithium-ion battery.” (See Holstein’s related op-ed in the New York Times.)

As the government reportedly considers a Good GM/Bad GM plan, could Toyota itself be a contender to purchase a piece of the auto manufacturer?

“My guess is that Toyota will not be interested in purchasing GM or any significant part of it,” says Patrick. “Toyota’s cars already compete very well with GM’s in the U.S. market, and there might well be considerable political exposure for Toyota emanating from such purchases.”

The Center on Japanese Economy and Business presents “Two Behemoths in a Troubled Industry: Toyota and GM” tonight from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.

Photo credit: Ahren D.