"politics Wont Affect Business Plan" - Toyota

By: Lauren Woods ">

The Toyota Motor Corp. is wary that its profits at the expense of Detroit automakers could have political implications however the company's top North American executive says that would not change its business plan.
In an interview, Jim Press, Toyota's North American president, said last Tuesday that the Japanese automaker always is looking at the consequences of the disparity between its performance and its U.S.-based competitors. He added, "The way the issue is played out doesn't affect the business. The business is you take care of customers. You make investments. Our philanthropy is up. We're doing more for the community."

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other lawmakers from other states have charged that the Japanese government has kept the yen artificially low. This makes exports cheaper in the United States and other places.

However, Press said criticisms that Toyota benefits from currency manipulation and also from Japan's taxpayer-financed health care system are unfair. "There are so many forces governing currency that the values would be difficult to manipulate," he continued. "Among the factors, he said is that the U.S. still is attractive to investors. Toyota isn't encroaching on the Detroit Three's territory, it's merely satisfying demand for its products, which recently have been a better match for consumer tastes."

In 2006, Toyota's sales increased by 12.9 percent to more than 2.5 million vehicles thus giving the company the opportunity to enjoy a 15 percent US market share. The automaker's gains came at the expense of other auto giants, namely General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler. This is because the overall US auto market lost 2.6 percent last year in comparison to the 2005 figures.

Press said Toyota is in the process of adding the capacity to build 600,000 more units in North America, or a total of 2.15 million vehicles, by 2010. He added that the company would like two-thirds of its vehicles sold in North America to be made there by 2010, but that will depend on sales. "People want to invest in America," Press said. "Money flows here. These are the kind of dynamics that affect currency."

Stressing health care issues, he said Toyota provides health insurance to its U.S. workers in a way that it maintains benefits and maintains fiscal responsibility. "We build cars here," he said. "People in Kentucky have good health care."

He said Michigan remains the center of automotive expertise, and Toyota plans to capture that by doubling its employment in the Ann Arbor area to around 1,000 with a new technical center that is now under construction south of the city.

In addition, Press said that incentives placed on the new Tundra full-sized pickup truck were planned responses to those offered by competitors, not a response to slow sales. The Toyota Tundra pickup truck which has been made available in five configurations is equipped with outstanding safety features such as four-wheel disc brakes; ; front, side, and curtain airbags; traction control; and a full ABS.

Press noted that competitors have incentives of up to $7,000 on 75 percent of their pickups, and customers have come into Toyota dealerships asking what its incentives are. Incentives on the Tundra averaged $1,647 per vehicle in February, according to data compiled by Edmunds.com, a research site for car buyers.

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