Akio’s got his ears on, hopping to it

TOKYO -- Akio Toyoda, who may remember 2010 as year of the recall, is waxing optimistic about the astrological significance of 2011 being the year of the rabbit by the Japanese calendar.

“This is year of the rabbit,” the Toyota Motor Corp. president said at a Jan. 5 New Year’s reception in Tokyo for the country’s business leaders. “So like a rabbit, we will lift up big ears to listen to the customers’ voices and make a big jump forward.”

Things can only get better for Toyoda, who pledges to redouble the company’s customer focus.

Last year -- the year of the tiger -- took a bite from the world’s largest automaker. It opened with Toyota recalling millions of cars to address allegations of unintended acceleration. By year’s end, the global callback tally exceeded 15 million units, for an assortment of glitches worldwide.

In the United States, Toyota’s market share dropped and sales remained flat -- in an up market.

Separately, another Toyota executive said the company is aiming for a modest increase in U.S. sales in 2011 but isn’t expecting a major change in market share. Toyota Motor Sales saw its market share shrink to 15.2 percent in 2010, from 17.0 percent a year earlier.

The executive cited the uncertain economy -- not the recalls -- for the conservative outlook.