The big rumor out of Japan today has NEC locked in heated negotiations with existing joint venture Casio Hitachi Mobile Communications to add itself into the mix -- a JV that's currently a 51 / 49 percent ownership split between Casio and Hitachi, respectively -- with NEC wanting to pick up a total of 50 percent of the combined operation. Japan's one of the more competitive, low-margin mobile markets in the world (just ask Mitsubishi) so it makes sense that a lot of these guys would be looking to consolidate and work on their sourcing scales of economy; if it happens, the rumor has the deal targeted for an April 2010 close that would make the combined operation the second-largest in the market at 20 percent share behind Sharp at 23 percent. Does this mean they'll be more friendly toward the crazy idea of wide-scale North American launches, by chance? Please?

[Via MobileCrunch]