Lopez's enemy? Not GM. It's the Japanese, he says Executive denies stealing documents


WOLFSBURG, Germany -- Filled with confidence despite the charges of industrial espionage swirling around him, Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, the embattled chief of purchasing and production at Volkswagen AG, says his real enemy is not General Motors Corp., his former employer, but Japan.

"Unfortunately, they are different," Mr. Lopez said of the Japanese. "I don't like their way of living."

If American and European automobile manufacturers lose their competition with the Japanese, he said, "then sooner or later you will have the same style of living as your bosses."

In a wide-ranging conversation in his office here, Mr. Lopez maintained that neither he nor his associates took any confidential information from GM.

Indeed, according to a document obtained by Reuters, he told the German company's board that sensitive documents from General Motors Corp. had ended up in a VW guest house inadvertently.

Mr. Lopez made the remarks in a statement to the VW supervisory board 2 1/2 weeks ago and maintained that he played no role in packaging and transporting confidential Opel and GM papers, Reuters said.

Mr. Lopez, who is facing investigations in both Germany and the United States, was accused by GM's German unit, Adam Opel AG, of betraying company secrets in March, when he left GM to join VW.

In his first interview since defecting from GM, Mr. Lopez offered an olive branch of sorts to the American automaker, saying that his work at VW complemented his earlier efforts at GM, and that he had undertaken both to protect "Western society."

"General Motors today is in much better shape than when I went there," Mr. Lopez said. "I am happy that I helped in its consolidating, because it gave Western society a strong company. Now my vision is, come here and consolidate the second powerful company in Western society, Volkswagen.

"When you have these two strong companies -- General Motors in America and Volkswagen in Europe -- then the chances for Western society to win are much better than if you have only one. That's how we win this battle. And that's what moved me to come here."

Despite the vehemence of GM's charges against him, Mr. Lopez hurled his sharpest invective at Japan.

"We in the West were too naive," he said. "We cannot afford to be naive. If you lose the battle for the automotive industry, then the West and Western society will become a second-class society, because one out of seven people here lives from cars. So the automotive industry is essential. We must win."

The weapons he intends to use in the battle for automotive dominance, however, were forged in Japan.

Mr. Lopez said that the most important element in corporate success is worker motivation, and that the best systems for inspiring workers to contribute to a company's goals are modeled on approaches used by Japanese manufacturers.

"There is a change from the dominant part management has played in the past, handing everything from the top down, orders from top to bottom, changes from top to bottom," Mr. Lopez said. "Involvement of the workers is an essential part of this third industrial revolution."

He said, though, that Western companies should not merely copy Japanese techniques; they must encourage worker participation in ways that involve their own cultural values.

"We need to build on our strength, on creativity," he said. "Creativity is the strength of Western society."

Despite his tough talk against the Japanese, Mr. Lopez tried at one point to soften his criticism, calling them "intelligent people, good people" with "a lot of merit." But he stressed his belief that the nationality and values of a company's owners affected the welfare of its employees.

"I prefer to live in the Western society, prefer the way we are living," Mr. Lopez said.

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