TOKYO - In an apparent bid to isolate Toyota from criticism of Japan's rising exports, Toyota Motor Corp. President Hiroshi Okuda said the company's shipments to the United States this year will rise only 5 percent 'at best.'
'It may seem a little bit like an excuse, but Toyota's exports (to the United States) are at about the same level as last year,' he said at a midyear press conference here last week.
Although Toyota's actual shipments to the United States last year were not available, its U.S. sales of imported cars and light trucks totaled 423,765 units, down 2.5 percent. A 5 percent increase would indicate a 1997 export target of about 445,000 units.
But through June, Toyota's exports to the United States are up 12.1 percent from a year earlier to 239,345 units. However, the company has been applying the brakes: Toyota's June shipments to the U.S. market fell 0.3 percent to 40,791, after a 0.1 percent dip in May.
OTHERS' EXPORTS CLIMB
The June decline contrasts with exports by other Japanese carmakers. Mazda Motor Corp.'s exports to North America, for instance, rose 41.5 percent in June.
Okuda indicated that Toyota's shipments to America will not jump next year, either, as new plants under construction in Canada and Indiana begin production. 'In the future, the increase in sales will be met by increased local production,' he said.
On the other side of the trade-balance equation, Okuda agreed that North American-built cars have not sold well in Japan lately. But he added that 'the Big 3 are making business, commercial efforts to sell their products. So I am optimistic about their abilities to sell their vehicles.'
Asked about slow sales of the General Motors-built, Toyota-badged and -sold Cavalier in Japan, Okuda said, 'We will be making our utmost efforts' to boost sales. He noted that a special edition Cavalier, with options chosen by popular comedian George Tokoro, a foreign-car fan, has sold reasonably well.
Okuda brushed aside worries that Toyota's launch of the Sienna minivan in the United States appears to coincide with a slowdown in the segment.
'The normal Toyota pattern is to come in the market late and be successful, so I don't think we have to worry,' he said.
NEW EUROPEAN PLANT
In other comments, he said Toyota will announce plans for a second European car plant by the end of 1997 or early in 1998. France is considered a prime contender for that plant.
Toyota also hopes to move quickly to sell its new hybrid-powered car in the United States and Europe after launching it in Japan, said Akihiro Wada, Toyota executive vice president in charge of research and development.
Toyota plans to begin selling a new, mass-production hybrid-powered car in Japan by the end of 1997. The powerplant incorporates gasoline and electric power to drive the vehicle. Toyota says the powerplant could double fuel economy.
'After we've established the reliability in Japan, we'd like to introduce it on overseas markets as soon as possible,' Wada said.
Toyota's latest English-language annual report, with the words 'Changing ... the car' on the cover, devotes a 10-page section to Toyota's work on alternative-fuel vehicles and other environmental initiatives.