Toyota cuts this year’s worldwide sales forecast

by Hiroko Nakata

Toyota Motor Corp. announced Monday it has lowered its global sales target for the year to 9.5 million units, down from the initial plan of 9.85 million, reflecting sluggishness in the U.S., Japanese and European markets.

“We have corrected sales estimates mainly in the U.S., Japan and Europe due to a slowdown in the markets that are affected by the slumping U.S. economy and surging raw material and oil prices,” Toyota spokesman Hideaki Honma said.

The figures include sales by Toyota and its group companies — mini and compact carmaker Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd.

Meeting the new estimate would represent growth of a mere 1 percent from the group’s 9.37 million global sales in 2007.

It is still widely believed, however, that Toyota is ahead of rival General Motors Corp. in the global sales competition.

Toyota’s global group sales for the January-June period rose 2 percent from a year earlier to 4.82 million, beating GM’s sales of 4.54 million, according to figures released by both automakers last week.

Monday’s announcement followed Toyota’s decision earlier this month to suspend production of large pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles in the United States from early August to November.

The decision apparently marks a turnaround in strategy for North America, where Toyota made a foray into the market for full-size pickup trucks last year to penetrate one of the last remaining bastions of GM, Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC.

Despite robust gains in emerging markets such as China and the Middle East, Toyota has struggled to offset slowing global demand due to soaring gasoline prices and the fallout from the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.

Sales of larger pickup trucks and SUVs have been hit particularly hard in the U.S. market, which accounts for some 40 percent of Toyota’s worldwide profits. Pressed by the adverse conditions, Toyota slashed its overseas sales target by 310,000 units to 7.27 million.

Record-high gasoline prices have also driven away Japanese customers, causing Toyota’s domestic sales target to slide to 2.23 million units from the 2.26 million units sold last year.

Information from Kyodo added