Toyota mindful of U.S. image
Toyota says it wants to 'grow with honor' in the U.S.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Toyota Motor Corp., fearful of being seen as a threat as its booming sales erode American automakers' share of the U.S. market, wants to build more of its cars and trucks in North America.
Although the Japanese automaker often proclaims that it wants to build where it sells, nearly half of the 2.5 million vehicles Toyota sold in the U.S. last year were imported from overseas factories.
The company reportedly is close to announcing a site in the Southern U.S. for what would be its ninth North American manufacturing plant. And Bloomberg News reported Thursday that unnamed sources familiar with Toyota's plans had said the automaker wanted to build as many as five new North American assembly plants by 2016, including the facility in the South.
Toyota executives would not comment on the report or discuss expansion.
But James Press, president of Toyota Motor North America, said in an interview in Detroit this week that the automaker intended to increase "investment and employment" in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
Acknowledging that Toyota is concerned about its image, Press, who runs Toyota's New York-based North American corporate office, said that "our first mission is to put the right face on the company" and to "grow with honor."
Toyota executives are concerned about criticism from some rivals and members of Congress of the company's mounting imports of Japanese-built autos as demand for its products here outstrip its North American production capacity. Toyota, like other Japanese automakers, also wants to limit the effects of currency exchange fluctuations by building more of its vehicles in the countries in which they are sold, Press said.
Adding five plants would bring Toyota's North American total to 13 and could represent an investment of about 5 billion and the addition of 10,000 jobs, according to the Bloomberg report.
"It's an aggressive plan but conceivable if they really want to do it," said Jim Hossack, senior analyst at consulting firm AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, Calif.
"That kind of expansion would depend on growth, but it would be good for getting more congressmen on their side," he said.
Toyota's growth isn't certain: Many analysts and auto industry executives are predicting that total U.S. auto sales could drop to as low as 15.9 million passenger cars and light trucks this year from 16.5 million in 2006, meaning that some companies will be posting losses.
But historically Toyota has grown while others have shrunk. In the U.S., the biggest sales losses among major automakers in the last decade have been posted by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler, which has been part of DaimlerChrysler of Germany since 1998.
Toyota's U.S. sales last year rose 12.5 percent to 2.54 million vehicles, while the three U.S. automakers saw combined sales decline 8 percent to 8.88 million. Toyota's growth propelled it into third place in the market behind GM and Ford.