Toyota to focus on regions

by Hiroko Nakata

The new president of Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday he will review his company’s aggressive global expansion and focus more on strategies based on each region around the world.

Each of Toyota’s five executive vice presidents will be assigned to four regions — Japan, North America, Europe and emerging markets — and overall product development, Akio Toyoda said in his first news conference since officially taking over the world’s biggest automaker the day before.

Toyoda, 53, criticized Toyota’s past strategy of aggressive growth overseas, referring to it as “growth that is larger than the size of the company.”

“We will place more emphasize on each market,” he said. “We tried to make full lineups in every region, but from now on we’re going to focus more on necessary lineups for each.”

Toyoda replaced Katsuaki Watanabe, who in leading Toyota since 2005 aggressively launched overseas production plants until the global economy started to crumble late last year.

Toyoda said the business environment remains severe.

“It will be sailing amid troubled waters for me and the new management team,” he said. “The tough conditions may continue for two years.”

He stressed that he will do his utmost to get the automaker back into the black in fiscal 2010.

Toyota said May 9 it logged a ¥461.01 billion group operating loss and a ¥436.94 billion net loss, the biggest ever for the automaker, which was founded in 1937. Toyota is expecting a group operating loss of ¥850 billion and a net loss ¥550 billion for the year ending next March — its second straight year of red ink.

Because of the losses, Toyoda said he will return bonuses and 30 percent of his monthly salary for one year starting in July. The old president and former executive vice presidents will return their bonuses and part of their monthly salaries, he said.

Turning to Toyota’s ongoing negotiations over the plant in Fremont, Calif., shared with debt-ridden U.S. rival General Motors Corp., Toyoda said nothing has been decided except that the Pontiac Vibe will no longer be produced there.

Under the new strategy, the executive vice president assigned to the specific market will pick the products to be pulled and allocate management resources.

Executive Vice President Atsushi Niimi will be in charge of North America, will eventually recover, Toyoda said, adding, “The strategy centering on large pickups will change.”

In Europe, which will be overseen by Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki, hybrids will gradually take center stage, Toyoda said.

Emerging markets, including rapidly growing China, will need a new low-priced car that meets demand in the region, he said. Executive Vice President Yukitoshi Funo will be in charge of emerging markets.