With Eye On GM, Toyota Plans 20% Sales Boost

Toyota on Sept. 20 set a goal of selling 9.8 million vehicles worldwide in 2008, a 20% jump from last year, as it hones in on ailing General Motors' crown as the world's top automaker.

The company also raised its profit forecast for the quarter to September, saying it was cashing in on robust sales overseas and a weaker yen.

"We will continue to construct new plants and expand existing production capacity in markets where we can expect growth going forward," Toyota Motor Corp president Katsuaki Watanabe told a news conference. "By doing so, we hope to capture better growth opportunities," he said. "To support the higher level of growth, the Toyota group will hire some 8,000 new technology staff by 2010 globally."

Toyota set its forecast of global sales at 9.8 million in 2008, compared with 8.13 million sold last year and 8.85 million expected this year. It revised up its interim net profit to 500 billion yen (3.4 billion dollars) in the April to September quarter, up from an earlier forecast of 380 billion yen.

General Motors sold just over nine million vehicles last year, meaning it would need a major boost in sales worldwide to keep up with Toyota in 2008. General Motors remains mired in a massive restructuring program that involves the shuttering of 12 plants and the elimination of 30,000 jobs.

Toyota has been careful not to gloat at its strength against US automakers, for fear of stirring up protectionist impulses. The North American market has been lucrative for Toyota which has cashed in on its fuel-efficient hybrid cars. Toyota said it also hoped to boost sales of its luxury cars. On Sept. 19 it launched in Japan its Lexus LS, known previously as Celsior, its fourth model of the luxury car it will sell at home.

As for overseas markets, Toyota aims to expand its sales in North America, Europe and strengthen their business in the emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Russia."Our share in the emerging markets is still low compared with that in other markets and they have high potential for our company. To seize the chance, we are considering introducing compact cars with lower prices," Watanabe said.

Watanabe also said that the company aimed to raise by 10% in operating profit margin and expand its production efficiently, which leads to higher profits.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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