Toyota: 2007 Sales Forecast Still on Track

By: Mike Bartley

The Toyota Motor Corp., which outpaced the General Motors Corp. in global vehicle sales in the first half of the year for the first time ever, set the full-year target late last year, Detroit News reported. The target is up six percent from the 8.8 million vehicles it sold around the globe in 2006.

GM has been auto industry's global top seller for more than seven decades now. Currently, the Detroit-based automaker has made no forecast for this year's sales. The Detroit-based automaker and its affiliates sold 9.1 million vehicles worldwide in 2006. But like the speedy , GM is likely to be overtaken by Toyota.

On the other hand, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said that he was leaving the company's sales target unchanged even though reviews were underway for all the regions. The largest Japanese automaker is seeing sales grow in the United Stated and other global markets. Escalating gas prices have produced fuel-efficient Toyota models such as the hybrid Prius and small cars Corolla, Camry and Vitz, which is also known as the Yaris.

Toyota plants were shut after a July 16 quake in north-central Japan, which damaged Riken Corp., a major auto parts supplier. The company said last Monday that 20 of its 31 assembly lines in Japan will be up by Tuesday. The closure has cost the Japanese automaker production of about 46,000 vehicles, and that number is expected to increase to about 55,000 overall, about 60 percent of them exports, Watanabe said. Toyota plans to catch up later this year on the lost production, he said.

Koji Endo, an auto analyst with Credit Suisse in Tokyo, said those vehicles amount to about three days of production, which can be easily made up on a weekend. "Overall, sales growth in North America, Russia, China and Europe is more than likely to make up for declines in Japan and Asia, and Toyota is likely to surpass its target," he said. "Toyota has set a conservative target. There is hardly any negative impact from the earthquake."

Outlining the Toyota's midyear strategy, Watanabe said that the company will contribute more to efforts against global warming and pollution by working on new technologies, including plug-in hybrids. More common hybrids already in mass production, such as the Prius, switch between an electric motor and gas engine to produce superb mileage. Additionally, plug-in hybrids do not need to be plugged in to recharge.

Other automakers also are working on the development of auto plug-in technology. Plug-in hybrids are equipped with batteries that power an electric motor, with an internal combustion engine for use when the batteries run low. The batteries can be recharged using a standard wall outlet.

Toyota said that in June, sales of its hybrid cars had passed one million units - a milestone for the Japanese automaker that started selling the Prius a decade ago but dominates the hybrid market at the present time. Toyota's 2007 global sales target would score the ninth consecutive year of global sales growth for the automaker.

Watanabe brushed off a question about the prospects of becoming number one in sales. "We must be thankful many customers are choosing to buy our products. "Being number one is a result of that," he said. "Toyota will continue to work to become a good corporate citizen in the United States and follow its principle of producing cars where they're sold."

Watanabe acknowledged the Japanese market was tough, but said new models were being well received in Japan in recent weeks. As part of an effort to woo buyers, side airbags and curtain-shield airbags will be offered as standard features on upcoming new models in Japan, he said.

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