TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp.'s new president says there is a '70 percent to 80 percent' chance that Toyota will build a new plant or expand its Princeton, Ind., factory to respond to strong U.S. sales.
Fujio Cho said he expects to decide by year end whether and how to boost U.S. production capacity. He does not see any need to trim capacity in Japan.
Speaking to reporters a few days after he became president of Japan's largest carmaker and former President Hiroshi Okuda became chairman, Cho said Toyota is stretched to meet demand.
'Of the plants we have, all are at full production except Indiana,' which is still ramping up, he said. Toyota now has four North American plants, including Prince-ton. That plant opened this year to build the Tundra pickup.
Cho declined to say what model Toyota might build on a new line. But odds were 'extremely low' that it would be a Lexus.
'So many of the parts are different' on Lexus vehicles - even those that share a platform with a Toyota model - that adding a Lexus to an existing line would be unnecessarily complicated, he said.
If Toyota decides to build a factory outside Indiana, the site search and plant construction would mean that production would not begin for two or three years, he said. That is why Toyota must be convinced that the U.S. market will not collapse just as a new line begins operation, he said.
With Toyota nearing its U.S. sales target of 1.5 million, 'I think we have to redraw the target above that,' Cho said. But he said that setting a new target is the responsibility of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., and he had not heard anything from the U.S. unit yet.
Cho is a former head of Toyota's manufacturing operations in Kentucky. He declined to give Toyota's worldwide market share target, saying only that the carmaker continues to aim for global sales of 6 million 'in the early part of the 21st century.'
In Japan, Toyota's current capacity of 3 million to 3.5 million is 'close to demand' for Toyota products, Cho said. Therefore Toyota has 'no plans to close capacity' in its home market, he said. He added, though, that 'some plants may be outdated,' and Toyota would be renewing them. He did not elaborate.