Toyota pumps up the volume

Posted by: Ian Rowley on August 31, 2007

When a Japanese company schedules a press conference for late on a Friday afternoon it’s usually a sign of bad news of some kind. Trust Toyota to be different.

Indeed, there wasn’t a sniff of a downgrade, a product recall or backtracking on a future model plans when CEO Katsuaki Watanabe fronted a wide-ranging presser at the Tokyo Prince hotel earlier. Instead, Watanabe used the event to showcase Toyota’s mid-term sales targets and generally talk about how well things are going for the world’s number one manufacturer. What’s more, the only numbers proffered were big ones.

The sale projections were perhaps most eye-catching. By 2009, Toyota projects global retail sales of 10.4 million. That compares to 8.81 million in 2006 and an expected 9.34 million this year, which is likely to already be enough see Toyota crowned the world’s biggest automaker. Toyota also said it plans to sell 9.8 million cars in 2008, which would make it the most be any car maker in single year. The current record of 9.55 million, dating back to 1978, is held by GM.

The CEO said much of the growth will come from China, India and other fast-growing emerging markets. However, he also reiterated that Toyota doesn’t see the current subprime woes in the U.S. having a huge impact on sales in its most profitable market. “We will monitor the impact of the subprime problem and also (high) gasoline prices, but I also believe that the economic fundamentals of the United States remain very strong.”

Watanabe was also at pains to point that the ambitious growth plans won’t gnaw away at profitability. He added that he wants the company to maintain an operating margin of 10% for the medium to long-term. There signs are that’s already on the cards for the current year. Aided by a weak yen, Toyota posted a margin of 10.4% during the last quarter, up from 9.1% a year earlier.

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