DOUGLAS A. BOLDUC

Toyota exec ready to 'help' Nissan in Europe

Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.Douglas A. Bolduc is Managing Editor at Automotive News Europe.
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Toyota Europe CEO Didier Leroy says he’s ready to “help” Nissan achieve its stated goal of becoming the top-selling Japanese automaker in the region by 2016. Why? Because Leroy says he puts profit before volume.

Leroy says he recently joked with some counterparts from Nissan about the automaker's desire to pass Toyota in Europe. He says he told them: “You want to be the No. 1 Japanese company in Europe, you want to sell more than Toyota. I will help you. I will help you to spend more money to sell more cars so that we will generate more profit.”

The discussion happened at the Automotive News Europe Congress this month in Brussels.

Leroy said Toyota is laser focused on keeping its European car operations profitable after the unit plunged into the red during the global economic crisis in 2008 and 2009. When Leroy took over at Toyota Europe in mid-2010 the company’s car business was forecast to lose money until the company’s 2013 fiscal year. Leroy returned the car business to profit by the 2012 fiscal year and increase that profit by 75 percent in 2013.

Tight race

In the first five months, Toyota's vehicle sales in the EU and EFTA markets rose 6 percent to 228,589 compared with Nissan's 10 percent rise during the same period to 206,736 vehicles, according to industry association ACEA.

In Russia, which both companies count as part of their Europe region, Nissan's five-month sales were up 29 percent to 70,341 units while Toyota’s volume rose 9 percent to 63,349, according to data from the Association of European Businesses in Russia. Both Japanese automakers are defying a negative trend in the Russian market, where overall sales were down 6 percent to 1,030,533 through five months.

Nissan Europe Chairman Trevor Mann is counting on the recently launched second-generation Qashqai crossover and the automaker's forthcoming Pulsar compact model line to help the automaker reclaim the title of top-selling Asian brand in Europe.

Toyota passed Nissan for that crown in 1998 and has not trailed since then. Both automakers will face strong competition from Hyundai for the title.

VW's ambitions

When asked at the ANE Congress about Volkswagen Group’s ambitions to be the world’s top-selling automaker by 2018 Leroy said: “If they want they can buy one or two other brands and they will be there even quicker.”

The executive clarified that he was not trying to be disrespectful to his rivals. He just wanted to emphasis that in the aftermath of Toyota’s massive recall problems in 2010 the company looks at sales volume in a completely different way now.

“Our course it is important to be No. 1. It gives a lot of energy to the network to say, ‘I’m working for No. 1,” Leroy said. “But internally if we have to prioritize between continuing our sustainable growth or being No. 1, we will give up the No. 1 position tomorrow morning. We just want to make sure that we will never give priority to volume.”

You can reach Douglas A. Bolduc at dbolduc@autonews.com.

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