Japanese auto giant Toyota, the globe’s third largest car manufacturer, last Friday predicted USA sales next year of 2.5 million vehicles – a 47% volume increase on 2001.

The forecast came not from some hype-happy vp of sales but from Toyota head honcho himself, chairman Hiroshi Okuda, who also leads Japan’s federation of employers’ associations.

His optimism does not necessarily signal that halcyon days will return for the US auto industry in 2002 – the Nipponese titan’s aggressive stateside expansion to date is largely at the expense of America’s ‘big three’ manufacturers, General Motors, Ford and DaimlerChrysler.

Okuda also predicted that his flagging home market will pick up. Citing Japanese government plans to counter road congestion in the nation’s major cities, he opined: “There is room for the market to grow in terms of size by 2m-3m units.” This could hike Toyota’s home sales from their current annual level of nearly 6m unit to 7m-8m in the medium term.

Europe, however, is proving less obliging in supporting Toyota’s rise and rise, the relative weakness of the euro not only conferring advantage on local manufacturers, but also impacting on the profitability of Japanese automakers' unit sales. They will not see a profit from their European operations, beleives Okuda, until the euro strengthens from its present rate of ¥ 106.8 [today] to ¥ 120.

News source: Financial Times