Toyota Motor Corp. wants its U.S. factories to export more vehicles outside of the NAFTA zone than any of its Detroit competitors, a top executive said Monday.
"We are looking for bigger export opportunities," said Yoshimi Inaba, CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and Toyota Motor North America. "It is in our interest to export, to help the U.S. economy and to help better utilize our capacity and also take advantage of today's yen."
The strength of the yen has prompted Japanese automakers to shift more production overseas to protect profits. Toyota, which produces more vehicles in Japan than any other automaker, has been especially vulnerable to the high yen.
The weak dollar also makes it more attractive for automakers to profitably build and ship light vehicles from the United States.
From U.S. factories -- including Toyota plants -- automakers exported 536,966 vehicles outside the NAFTA zone through the first 10 months of 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission. Of that amount, Toyota exported about 16,700 units.
However, including exports to Mexico and Canada, automakers exported about 1.28 million vehicles from U.S. plants in the first 10 months of 2011, of which Toyota accounted for about 100,000 units.
Currently, Toyota is exporting to 19 countries outside the NAFTA zone. Most of those countries are in the Middle East, South America and Asia.
Although its current export volume is small, Toyota is looking to aggressively increase that amount.
Toyota recently began exporting U.S.-built Camrys to South Korea, and it is also investigating the Russian market for U.S. exports, Inaba said.
Currently, Toyota exports the Tundra and Tacoma pickups, as well as the Camry, Sienna, Sequoia, Venza and Avalon.
"We want to do better than the [Detroit] Three. We want to be No. 1," Inaba said.
Because those vehicles exported from the United States are not also made in Japan, it should not affect Japanese factory production levels, Inaba said.
"It is an incremental volume," Inaba said. "We are looking at every possibility."
Toyota operates 4 U.S. assembly plants located in Georgetown, Ky., Princeton, Ind., Tupelo, Miss., and San Antonio. In addition, Toyota partner Subaru builds the Camry in Lafayette, Ind.
Toyota also assembles vehicles at two plants in Ontario, Canada, and one in Baja, Mexico.