Toyota Motor Corp., hoping to carve a bigger share out of the expanding minivan market, on Monday released the new Sienta minivan in Japan.

The seven-seat vehicle, which comes with an engine displacement of 1,500cc, features flexible seat arrangements and boasts fuel efficiency of 19 km per liter, among the best in its class, company officials said.

While domestic sales of compact cars have been sluggish in recent months, the automaker hopes the Sienta will cultivate new customers, Toyota President Fujio Cho said.

Competition in the minivan segment is intensifying this year as many Japanese carmakers are introducing new models. For instance, Nissan Motor Co. launched the Presage in June and the Cube Cubic minivan earlier this month, and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. released the Grandis in May.

Kyoji Sasazu, Toyota’s senior managing director in charge of domestic sales, said minivan sales now account for about 22 percent of the domestic car market, excluding minicars, and could climb as high as 25 percent.

Toyota hopes to sell 7,000 Sientas a month by targeting young people and families with small children. The minivan has been priced at 1.37 million yen to 1.84 million yen.

Cho told reporters that the recent sharp rise of the yen against the dollar will have a negative impact on Toyota’s performance, if the trend continues for a long period.

“The current exchange rate does not reflect Japan’s economic situation,” he said. “We see (the current situation) as a crisis because it is difficult for companies with long-term plans to take measures” to cope with the fluctuations.

Cho, however, said that the current rise of the yen will not affect Toyota’s short-term performance.

The dollar fell to 111 yen last week, down from the 115 yen neighborhood about two weeks earlier.

A stronger yen hurts Japanese exporters by making their products more expensive abroad.

Integration plan eyed

Nissan Motor Co. said Monday that it and four other group companies will integrate their service-support firms next year.

The move, which will involve the integration of 10 units, is aimed at boosting efficiency and exploring business opportunities outside the group.

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