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Toyota to name new president as global sales fall

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[January 20, 2009]  TOKYO (AP) -- Toyota Motor Corp. said it will announce a new president Tuesday as it struggles to ride out a slump in the global auto market that dragged its annual sales down 4 percent in 2008.

Toyota's global vehicles sales for last year totaled 8.972 million, down 4 percent from 2007, as a global downturn overshadowed its race to overtake General Motors as the world's biggest automaker.

Toyota has been on track to dethrone American rival General Motors Corp. as the world's No. 1 by annual sales, a title it has held for 77 years, though the parlous state of the global auto industry would make it a hollow victory.

Detroit-based General Motors is scheduled to give its global vehicles sales tally Wednesday.

For 2007, Toyota sold 9.366 million vehicles globally, about 3,000 vehicles fewer than GM and just barely allowing the U.S. automaker to retain its crown.

Japanese media have reported recently that Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, has been tapped to head Japan's Toyota Motor Corp.

His return would mark the first time a Toyota family member takes the helm at the company in 14 years.


Toyota said the announcement about the new president will be made by current president Katsuaki Watanabe and Toyota Chairman Fujio Cho. The company declined to say whether Toyoda would be present at the announcement.

Toyota is financially in far better shape than GM, which had been on the brink of collapse until securing a multibillion-dollar government bailout.

But Toyota has also seen its once booming fortunes shift into reverse as the global recession, especially in the key North American market, hits sales.

Toyota is forecasting a 150 billion yen ($1.69 billion) operating loss for the fiscal year ending March 31 -- its first such red ink in 70 years.

For the first half of this year, GM, pummeled by falling U.S. sales and high gas prices, lost the global sales lead to Toyota, by about 277,500 vehicles.

For that period, Toyota's global sales rose 2 percent from the same period the year before, while GM's sales fell 3 percent.

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The gap has widened since then. Toyota reported it sold 7.05 million cars worldwide during the first nine months of the year, compared with 6.66 million for GM for the same period.

Despite the intense interest in their rivalry, both companies have played down the sales numbers.

Toyota said it sold 2.15 million vehicles in Japan for 2008, down 5 percent from the previous year, and 6.82 million vehicles abroad, down 4 percent on year.

Before the downturn, Toyota had repeatedly given ambitious growth numbers, targeting 10 million vehicles in global sales in the next few years.

Now that the industry's prospects are dismal, Toyota has refused to even say how many vehicles it hopes to sell this year.

In the latest sign of dire straits, the Yomiuri newspaper reported Tuesday that Toyota was slashing its temporary workers in Japan to zero later this year to cut costs and production amid a global slump. Toyota said nothing has been decided.

The maker of the Lexus luxury car and Prius hybrid said last month that its temporary work force in Japan -- almost all assembly line workers -- will be reduced from 6,000 to about 3,000 by March in the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Japanese rivals Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. have already said their Japanese temporary workers will be gone over the next few months.

[Associated Press; By YURI KAGEYAMA]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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