Toyota Ready To Surpass GM As World's Top Automaker

Toyota Motor Corp. said Dec. 20 it planned a major boost in output next year, likely pushing the Japanese automaker over ailing General Motors for the crown of the world's top automaker. Toyota's target is just short of GM's 2005 estimate, a possible sign it wants to avoid a backlash in the U.S. where Japanese auto sales have soared on the popularity of eco-friendly cars at the expense of their loss-making U.S. rivals.

President Katsuaki Watanabe said in his year-end address that Toyota would boost output by nearly 10% to some 9.06 million vehicles in 2006 from the 8.25 million expected in 2005. That compares with GM's target of 9.08 million vehicles for 2005.

Toyota stands a good chance of overtaking its giant U.S. rival, which enters the new year trying to restructure rather than expand in an effort to cut massive losses. GM's 2005 output is already down from 9.098 million in 2004. Even if the U.S. rival continues unchanged, Toyota will still most likely replace GM in 2006 as the world's largest automaker, BNP Paribas Securities analyst Yasuhiro Matsumoto said. "Toyota always uses conservative figures so it can make sure it achieves the goals it sets," Matsumoto said. "Toyota will soon catch up with GM next year just by growing at its current pace."

Watanabe knocked down the idea of becoming number one. "I hope to honestly, steadfastly and earnestly move ahead, taking another leap forward," Watanabe told a news conference in Toyota's home base of central Aichi prefecture. "I don't care if the company becomes the world's largest or not."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2005

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