ROME - Armed with 10 new models scheduled to debut over the next 12 months, Toyota Motor Corp. has set its sights on achieving 800,000 sales in Europe by 2005.
That target, which Toyota estimates will account for 5 percent of the European market by then, would represent a gain of more than 60 percent over last year's sales of 498,000 units. The automaker expects sales this year of about 600,000 units, including Lexus and Daihatsu models.
'We first passed 400,000 sales in Europe in 1987, and it has taken us until now to get to 600,000,' said Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Toyota Motor Europe. 'I don't expect to have to wait that long to reach 800,000 units.'
The reasons: a flood of new product, headlined by the new B-segment Toyota Yaris, which will be built in France beginning in 2001, and the end of a quota system that has sharply curtailed Japanese auto sales in Europe.
Historically, Toyota's performance in Western Europe has been dictated by a patchwork of quota rules:
In Scandinavia, Ireland and Greece, all of which had no quotas, Toyota emerged as one of the market leaders. In Finland, Toyota ranked No. 3 behind only Ford and Opel in 1998, with a 12.7 percent market share. In both Ireland and Greece, it had an 11.7 percent share.
In Germany and the United Kingdom, where Japanese market share was limited by under-the-table 'gentlemen's agreements,' Toyota registered market shares of 2.9 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively, last year.
And in those countries where Japanese share was officially limited to less than 3 percent - notably Italy, France and Spain - Toyota sales reflected the cap. In Spain, for example, Toyota has a 1.1 percent share. But all quotas come off this year, and the Japanese can compete freely.
Yaris leads the charge
The new Yaris and the Celica sport coupe, shown to reporters in Rome late last month, will be in the forefront of Toyota's charge, Diaz Ruiz said. Toyota Europe's sales were up 15 percent last year, largely because of the Yaris.
The Yaris is attracting youth and women to the brand. The Starlet, which it replaces, had an average buyer age of 55, with 38 percent women; the Yaris has lowered that average age to 38, with 45 percent female buyers. 'Yaris is opening the door to a new Toyota customer,' Diaz Ruiz said.
Diaz Ruiz called the Yaris the first example of Toyota's commitment to a European design, packaging and performance philosophy that also represents value for money.
'These are cars sold in Europe delivering European performance,' he said at the press introduction here.
'Our European component sourcing also will increase dramatically with these cars.'
All engines for Europe will be sourced from the Deeside, England, plant, while a new plant in Poland will produce 250,000 transmissions a year. Toyota also will open a design center near St. Tropez in southern France in 2001, part of plans to treble European r&d spending.
At the same time, Toyota has set out an ambitious growth target for the Lexus brand. Sales this year are expected to be triple last year's volume of just 3,000 units.
Much of that growth is attributed to the arrival this year of the IS 200. The plan is to take Lexus sales to 25,000 next year and to 50,000 by 2002.
Additions to the Lexus lineup will include the RX 300 sport-utility next year and the SC 300 coupe and GS 300 sedan. All are powered by gasoline engines, but diesel models are being considered.
'The diesel segment is very important in mainland Europe,' said Diaz Ruiz.