Toyota to overtake GM as world's top car firm in 2008

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The Independent Online

Toyota unveiled plans yesterday to add sufficient new manufacturing capacity over the next two years to build an extra 1 million cars and overtake General Motors as the world's biggest car company.

The Japanese manufacturer forecast it would sell 9.8 million cars in 2008 compared with 8.85 million this year. GM sold 9.17 million cars and trucks last year.

A key part of the growth strategy will be a big increase in Toyota's European presence. It now expects to sell more than 1.2 million vehicles in Europe in 2008 - two years ahead of target. Production capacity in Europe will be in excess of 850,000 units.

The remorseless rise of the Japanese company is in stark contrast to the turmoil which has engulfed Ford and GM, both of which have embarked on savage rationalisation programmes involving tens of thousands of job losses and widespread plant closures in the US.

Last week, Ford unveiled yet another restructuring plan aimed at slashing $5bn (£2.6bn) from its costs and cutting the size of the workforce by 75,000, or a third. Toyota, already the world's most profitable car maker, now outsells Ford in its own domestic market.

Toyota has also been helped by a weaker-than-expected yen. This helped it lift its estimate for earnings in the first half of the year by a third. The company forecast that operating profits for the six months to the end of September would be ¥170bn (£767m) higher than its initial estimate at ¥540bn.

Katsuaki Watanabe, the Toyota president, said the company planned to develop a low-cost car for emerging markets without compromising quality. Sales in Asia, excluding Japan, are forecast to grow from 1 million last year to 1.7 million in 2008, making the region its biggest growth market. Sales in North America are forecast to grow to 3 million units.