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Toyota likely to overtake GM in 2007

WORLD'S NO. 1 Toyota's projected 4 percent rise in production could allow it to surpass GM, which has been scaling back output after market share losses


Japanese auto giant Toyota Motor president Katsuaki Watanabe is all smiles as he is surrounded by reporters at a press conference for the company's new car Blade in Tokyo on Thursday.


Toyota yesterday announced a global production target of 9.42 million vehicles for next year, increasing the odds that the Jap-anese car manufacturer will surpass troubled General Motors Corp (GM) as the world's No. 1 automaker.

The latest figure, announced by Toyota in a release, marks a 4 percent increase over the 9.04 million vehicles the company expects to produce this year and easily clears the 9.2 million vehicles GM is estimated to have produced this year.

GM has not given targets for next year, but it had been forced to scale back production recently after seeing its market share eroded by Asian automakers, including Toyota, which have a reputation for better mileage.

Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, auto analyst with Deutsche Securities in Tokyo, said the numbers weren't a surprise, given the recent achievements of Toyota.

"The growth highlights the fantastic reputation Toyota has won for its cars," he said. "Toyota may need to set the next goal to keep its motivation up if it becomes No. 1."

Although Detroit-based GM says the perception that its cars are gas-guzzlers is unfair and inaccurate, it is undergoing massive restructuring after racking up more than US$10.6 billion in red ink last year and US$3 billion more the first nine months of this year.

Toyota, on the other hand, is on a roll, reporting record profits, churning out best-sellers like the Camry and Corolla, as well as carving out a reputation in hybrids, which use a fine-tuned technology of switching between a gasoline engine and electric motor to save gas at a time when oil prices are rising.

Toyota, which surpassed Ford Motor Co. as the world's No. 2 automaker in 2003, also painted a bright picture of sales next year. It is expecting to sell 9.34 million vehicles globally next year, up 6 percent from the 8.8 million expected for this year.

Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe, however, shrugged off the possibility that his company may soon beat GM as No. 1.

"It just means the results came," he said quietly at a news conference at a hotel in Nagoya, in central Japan, near Toyota city where the automaker is based.

Watanabe also said the company was considering adding another plant in North America to keep up with growing demand, although he did not give details.

Of Toyota's projected volume for next year, overseas production will rise 8 percent to 4.27 million vehicles, while its domestic output will increase 1 percent to 5.15 million vehicles, the company said.

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