Toyota Closes In on Number One


Toyota has outlined plans to sell as many as 9.34 million vehicles in 2007, which, if it follows through, would allow it to surpass General Motors as the world's largest automaker.

The new goal comes amid growing signs of the Japanese automaker's continuing success. Toyota surpassed Ford Motor Co. as the world's second largest automaker in annual global vehicle sales in 2003. Ford now expects Toyota to pass it in North American sales in 2007 as well.

Toyota said it sold 8.13 million vehicles worldwide in 2005, and is set to sell about 8.85 million vehicles this year, including sales from subsidiaries truck maker Hino Motors and Daihatsu Motor Co., which makes small cars. Toyota's profit also grew 39 percent in its fiscal first quarter, which ended June 30, to $3.1 billion.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe declined to give a vehicle production target for 2008 but said the number may be slightly higher than the sales figure. “We are aiming for steady growth through strengthening all our operations,'' Watanabe told reporters.

Watanabe also said, in another challenge to competitors struggling to match Toyota's ambitious product plans, that his company would hire 8000 additional engineers worldwide by 2010.

The largest gain in vehicle sales in coming years will come from Asia outside Japan, including China, and they will also continue to grow in North America and Europe, although less dramatically, according to Toyota executives. Vehicle sales in Japan will stay flat, they said.
The ambitious plans in China and the rest of Asia also mean that Toyota now is exposed to more risk if China's economy slows or the military coup in Thailand triggers political unrest, Watanabe said.

Nevertheless, analysts said after the company's press conference that Toyota has clearly benefited from soaring oil prices, which have prompted drivers turn to fuel-efficient cars. Toyota models have a reputation for delivering impressive fuel economy. The Prius hybrid is now so popular its sales have nearly surpassed the tax credit quota set by the U.S. Congress.

Already number two and number three


Meanwhile, Toyota is now well on its way to solidifying its grip on the number three spot in North American market, dislodging DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group, which has held the spot since the 1950s. It will mark the first time that an Asian or European carmaker has dislodged an American company from the first three spots.

Toyota also is threatening to lap the fading Ford Motor Co. in North American sales as its U.S. market share continues to grow. Toyota's share of the American market is growing, mainly at the expense of the U.S. makers, climbing to 16.1 percent in August, up from 13.8 percent a year ago.

Officials from Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. said last week the Japanese automaker's brand-new plant in San Antonio, Texas will begin producing vehicles in November. Toyota also officially broke ground last week on construction of another new assembly plant in Woodstock, Ont., as it continues to ramp up production and push into segments traditionally dominated by competitors.

Brian Smith, Toyota corporate manager for truck operations in the U.S., said that TMS expects to sell about 200,000 new Tundra pickup trucks next year. So far this year, Toyota has sold only 79,000 Tundras, but its executives believe the new truck will far exceed it in sales, since it has a new design, new features, and a new, more powerful engine.

Toyota executives also said earlier this week they want to boost Lexus sales worldwide into the 500,000 range over the next couple of years.

Lexus also is preparing for an assault on the prestige luxury segment, another tough segment where cars cost more than $70,000, buyers are finicky, and the successful brands are steeped in tradition, like Mercedes-Benz, Maserati, Bentley, and Porsche. The push is part of Lexus' philosophy of following the customer wherever they want to go, said Bob Carter, Lexus general manager in the U.S.

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