Toyota to sell more vehicles overseas, in race to overtake GM

Toyota to sell more vehicles overseas, in race to overtake GM

NAGOYA, Japan: Toyota Motor Corp., in a neck-and-neck race that could dethrone General Motors Corp. (GM) as the world’s top auto maker this year, said it plans to sell 9.85 million vehicles globally in 2008.

Toyota also said it plans to produce 9.95 million vehicles worldwide during the same year, up 5% from this year—the same percentage jump for the auto maker’s global sales.

Toyota’s targets, announced at a hotel in Nagoya near the company’s headquarters on Tuesday, far surpasses the 9.3 million vehicles GM has given as its estimated production this year. GM has not given a forecast for the number of vehicles it expects to produce or sell in 2008.

GM has been fighting back and boosting its overseas business to try to retain the top industry spot, which it has held for 76 years.

Toyota has grown steadily in recent years on the back of models such as the Camry sedan, Corolla subcompact and the Prius gas-electric hybrid. Soaring fuel prices have dramatically enhanced the appeal of smaller fuel-efficient models that are its trademark.

Demand for Toyota models has been rising in nearly every region, including the US and markets such as China, South America, Russia and India.

If Toyota achieves the target given on Tuesday, it would put the company far ahead of the industry record of 9.55 million vehicles sold by GM in 1978. GM sold 9.1 million vehicles around the world in 2006.

Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said keeping a balance between quality and quantity will be key to growth.

“These are times when we must change what needs to change but preserve what must not change," he said. “We have always said there can be no growth in quantity without raising the level of quality."

Watanabe said Toyota expects its US sales to grow next year despite problems such as the subprime mortgage crisis and soaring oil prices that are likely to crimp overall auto sales. Other overseas regions will also post growth, including China and Russia, next year, he said.

After the first nine months of this year, Toyota was—at 7.05 million vehicles sold worldwide—trailing Detroit-based GM’s sales of 7.06 million vehicles for the same period. The final tally won’t be out until January.

In August, Toyota set a global sales target of 10.4 million vehicles for 2009.