Even in Japan, which is reeling from a five-year economic slowdown, some U.S. suppliers are quite optimistic.

Transmission supplier Borg-Warner Automotive has had a presence in Japan for 30 years and is expanding there to supply timing chains. The market for chains is expected to grow by 135% by 2005, says Mary E. Brevard, director of B-W investor relations.

"The economy has been depressed for a number of years, but we have done well in our Japanese and Asian operations because they export a lot of what they produce to Western Europe and the U.S.," she says.

"Asia is an important market for us. We've been there a while, and we know what it takes to operate there," Ms. Brevard says. "This is a short-term situation right now. We won't let that prevent us from taking advantage of opportunities in that area like timing chain systems. This isn't driven by the economy but by technology."

Borg-Warner also has joint ventures in Korea and China and no plans to scale back. "When you invest in Asia, you do it long-term and very slowly," she says.

Even Odysseus knew the value of patience. His business trips lasted 20 years. - with contributions from Andrea Wielgat