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Early decision promised on site of new Toyota plant

Toyota, the Japanese car giant, could bring forward a decision on whether to locate a second European car plant in Britain, executives indicated yesterday, as the company pledged to intensify its sales assault across the Continent.

Iwao Okijima, executive vice-president, would give no clue as to whether the UK was on theshortlist. But he revealed that more than 30 sites had "extended" invitations to the company, including several from Eastern Europe. Another site under consideration is believed to be in northern France.

"We have not made any decisions," said Mr Okijima. "We will come to a final conclusion by the middle of next year. However, we would very much like to bring forward the date of the decision and we are working hard to do so."

Before the UK election Toyota warned that the previous government's scepticism towards closer European integration could deter the group from adding to its British manufacturing operations. It recently approved the expansion of its only European car-making plant, at Burnaston in Derbyshire, to 220,000 cars annually, to build a second model range.

Capacity at its engine factory on Deeside is also being expanded to 200,000.

Mr Okijima said political considerations were just one of several factors. "Toyota has had a very favourable relationship with the previous government and we hope this relationship with the new Labour government will continue." Managers praised efficiency strides at Burnaston, but said productivity was still 10 per cent below Japan.

Toyota predicted it would sell 450,000 cars in Europe this year, with sales in the first six months running 11 per cent ahead of 1996.