Toyota hopes for revival after sinking to No. 3

TOKYO (AP) — Toyota Motor Corp., which has sunk to No. 3 in global vehicle sales from pole position, is counting on emerging markets to drive a revival in its fortunes, one of its top India executives says.

Toyota sold 3.7 million vehicles around the world in the first half of 2011, down 11 percent from a year earlier as sales crashed 62 percent in April-June on production disruptions caused by the March earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan.

That put it behind General Motors Co., which sold 4.5 million vehicles during the same period, and Volkswagen AG of Germany, with 4.13 million vehicles sold. Toyota has been the top selling automaker in annual sales for the past three years.

Sandeep Singh, deputy managing director at Toyota’s joint venture in India, told The Associated Press on Saturday that growth in India was so solid for Toyota he was confident the company was headed in the right direction.

Two days before the March 11 disasters, Toyota President Akio Toyoda said global vehicle sales of 10 million by 2015, which would be an industry first, by 2015, was attainable for the Japanese automaker.

Singh, visiting Toyota’s Tokyo office for meetings with senior executives, said the difficulties from the disaster were temporary, and Toyota’s vision for growth remained unchanged.

“The targets we have been given, we are on track for that,” he said of India’s part of the vision, while stressing Toyota does not chase numbers but goes for customer satisfaction.

Toyota’s vehicle sales in India jumped 53 percent this year to 53,100 vehicles for the first half, and the growth was expected to continue because of production capacity boosts in India, Singh said.

Last month, Toyota said it was expanding production capacity in its India subsidiary, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Private, to 310,000 vehicles in 2013, up from today’s 160,000, with a 17.2 billion yen ($220 million) investment.

Toyota, now No. 5 in India in market share, is pushing the made-for-India Etios small sedan to attract an emerging middle class, who wants quality and space in an affordable car — a sector likely to keep growing in coming years, according to Singh.

China, the world’s No. 1 auto market, which is expected to hit about 20 million vehicles this year, is another place for expansion. Toyota is expecting to sell 900,000 vehicles in China this year, up 6 percent from 846,000 vehicles last year.

India, with an overall auto market of about 3 million, is still less developed than China and so potential growth is even greater. In 2010, Toyota sold nearly 75,000 vehicles in India, up 34 percent from 2009.

Singh said Toyota’s reputation for making reliable cars had not suffered in India, despite the massive recalls in North America. The maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury models, enjoys a solid reputation for quality in India, he said.

Toyota is also hopeful of sales growth in the U.S., despite the recall fiasco, not just relatively new markets like India where people are rapidly becoming first-time car-owners.

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