TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. raised its 2004 vehicle sales forecast by 4 percent to a record 7.39 million units helped by stellar demand overseas, saying projects were in place to ensure continued expansion over the long term.
Japan's top auto maker is racing ahead of rivals in the saturated U.S. and Western European regions, driven by popular products like the remodelled Prius hybrid car and Avensis saloon, while enjoying strong growth in the nascent Asian markets along with the rest of the industry.
After unseating Ford Motor Co. as the world's second-biggest car maker in 2003, Toyota now expects a 9 percent rise in global sales this year at the group, which includes minivehicle maker Daihatsu Motor Co. Ltd. and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd.
"We believe the car market is going to grow more in the longer term, especially in populous China and India, as well as in the developing Eastern European and Russian markets," President Fujio Cho told a news conference on Tuesday.
"We have various projects in the pipeline to continue our expansion, and we will aim to keep up with the growth in the overall market," he said, citing previously announced plans to start building cars in Texas and the Czech Republic.
In North America, where sales surpassed the 2-million-unit target last year, Cho said Toyota would flex its product offerings in the hybrid and light-truck segments, and for the new Scion brand aimed at a growing demographic of young drivers.
Already, Toyota's sales in the profitable U.S. market alone have exceeded 1 million units in the year to date, growing 10 percent as orders for the Prius run far ahead of supply.
Cho, however, denied a Wall Street Journal report that Toyota was planning to further boost output capacity for the fuel-efficient car. In April, it finished raising capacity to around 10,000 units a month.
EUROPE STRONG, JAPAN ABOVE AVERAGE
Toyota also plans to keep building more vehicles in Europe, topping up capacity at its British plant by one-third to meet rising demand for the Avensis and Corolla models. It will also begin producing 100,000 small cars in the Czech Republic through a joint venture with PSA Peugeot Citroen.
In the first half of this year, Toyota's sales grew 15 percent in Europe to a record half a million cars, setting the auto maker on course to achieve its goal of grabbing a 15 percent share of the global car market some time in the next decade.
While sales in Japan fell slightly short of year-ago levels in the first half of this year, the decline was sharper for the overall market, giving Toyota a 44 percent share of its home market, a record for the six-month period.
"With the launch of the Lexus luxury line in Japan next year, we are paving the road for stronger sales in the future," Cho said.
For the Toyota brand only, sales are seen at 6.61 million vehicles this year instead of the 6.33 million forecast in December, also representing a 9 percent increase from 2003.