Bloomberg News

Toyota Aims for Pre-Lehman Sales Levels With New Car Models

November 29, 2011

(Updates with comment from analyst in seventh paragraph.)

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. is aiming for its plug-in Prius hybrid and other new models to help pave a return to sales levels before the global recession in 2008, Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said.

“After the Lehman crisis in 2008, annual sales volume fell by about 2 million units,” Uchiyamada said in an interview today in Tokyo, without giving a specific sales target. “We have not been able to regain that yet, so we are hoping that our new cars will help us achieve that.”

The Toyota City, Japan-based automaker will introduce the Prius PHV hybrid car in Japan on Jan. 30, with prices starting from 3.2 million yen ($41,000), according to the company. The carmaker aims to sell 35,000 to 40,000 of the plug-in Prius a year in Japan.

Toyota, poised to lose its global sales crown to General Motors Co., is counting on gasoline-electric vehicles to aid a sales recovery next year. The automaker scrapped its full-year profit forecast after the worst floods in Thailand in almost 70 years disrupted production, hampering efforts by Japanese carmakers to recover from a record earthquake in March.

The carmaker’s shares rose 1.9 percent to 2,529 yen at the close of Tokyo trading. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average rose 2.3 percent.

The automaker sold 9.37 million vehicles in 2007. Sales fell to 7.81 million in 2009 as the global recession sparked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. a year earlier slashed demand for automobiles.

‘Lineup is Complete’

“With the plug-in, Toyota will be able to compete with electric cars too,” Takeshi Miyao, a Tokyo-based analyst at industry researcher Carnorama, said. “Toyota’s lineup is complete,” with the new Aqua compact hybrid offering an “affordable” choice, he said.

The new Prius PHV has a fuel-economy rating of 61 kilometers per liter and a cruising range of 26.4 kilometers on its lithium-ion battery, which can be charged using a household electricity outlet, according to a release by the company.

“We hope to attract customers who were still hesitant to buy an all-electric car,” Shinichi Sasaki, executive vice president at Toyota, said today at a press briefing.

Hybrid Cars

Toyota and Ford Motor Co. announced a plan in August to collaborate to develop a hybrid system for pickup trucks and sport-utility vehicles as U.S. fuel-economy rules tighten.

Ford, which wants a quarter of its vehicles to run at least partly on electricity, now offers hybrid versions of the Escape SUV and the Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans. The Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker sells about 35,000 hybrids annually, compared with Prius sales of 140,928 vehicles in 2010.

Toyota is also working with electric-car maker Tesla Motors Inc. on a battery-powered version of the Toyota RAV4 sport- utility vehicle that will go on sale in 2012. Toyota has said it may eventually offer hybrid versions of every model in its lineup.

Nissan Motor Co., the maker of the all-electric Leaf, has said the company plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid vehicle in 2015. Mitsubishi Motors Corp., the maker of the i-MiEV electric car, plans to unveil a plug-in next year.

“We’re introducing many new cars, and we plan to make as many of them as possible,” Uchiyamada said. “Our Prius has a track record of 3.4 million units in total sales, and we firmly believe the plug-in version will beat competitors.”

--Editors: Chua Kong Ho, Terje Langeland

To contact the reporters on this story: Anna Mukai in Tokyo at amukai1@bloomberg.net; Yuki Hagiwara in Tokyo at yhagiwara1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chua Kong Ho at kchua6@bloomberg.net


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