Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Toyota '08 sales would top record

Toyota, in a neck-and-neck race that could dethrone General Motors as the world's top automaker this year, said Tuesday it plans to sell 9.85 million vehicles globally in 2008.

Toyota (TM) also said it plans to produce 9.95 million vehicles worldwide during the same year, up 5 percent from this year - the same percentage jump for the automaker's global sales.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s targets, announced at a hotel in Nagoya near company headquarters, far surpasses the 9.3 million vehicles General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) has given as its estimate for production this year.

GM has not given a forecast for the number of vehicles it expects to produce or sell in 2008.

GM has been fiercely fighting back and boosting its overseas business to try to retain the top industry spot, which it has held for 76 years.

Toyota has grown steadily in recent years along with the popularity of its models such as the Camry sedan, Corolla subcompact and the Prius gas-electric hybrid.

Soaring gas prices have dramatically boosted the appeal of smaller fuel-efficient models that are Toyota's trademark.

Demand for Toyota models has been growing in almost every region, including the U.S. and new markets such as China, South America, Russia and India.

If Toyota achieves the target given Tuesday, it would put the company far ahead of the industry record of 9.55 million vehicles sold by GM in 1978. GM sold 9.1 million vehicles around the world in 2006.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said keeping a balance between quality and quantity will be key to growth.

"These are times when we must change what needs to change but preserve what must not change," he said. "We have always said there can be no growth in quantity without raising the level of quality."

Watanabe said Toyota expects its U.S. sales to grow next year despite problems such as the subprime mortgage crisis and soaring oil prices that are likely to crimp overall auto sales. Other overseas regions will also post growth, including China and Russia, next year, he said.

After the first nine months of this year, Toyota was - at 7.05 million vehicles sold worldwide - trailing Detroit-based GM's sales of 7.06 million vehicles for the same period.

The final tally for this year's numbers won't be out until January next year.

In August, Toyota set a global sales target of 10.4 million vehicles for 2009.

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