New Toyota chief to review product line

TOKYO – Akio Toyoda promised a nimbler Toyota that will be more responsive to regional needs in his first public appearance as head of the Japanese automaker his grandfather founded.
But he also offered little detail about what those plans are.
Toyoda, the automaker’s first president from the founding family in 14 years, said Thursday the company’s entire product lineup will be reviewed to better focus its offerings to each global region.
He also hinted Toyota was stepping back from its recent go-go years of global expansion and returning to basics and simply making good cars.
“In some areas, we need to take a step backwards,” he said.
Toyoda, 53, one of youngest presidents in Toyota Motor Corp.’s history, also said he will put customers and the rank-and-file first to steer the world’s biggest automaker out of its worst crisis since being founded in 1937.
“This ship is setting sail in a storm,” he told reporters at a Tokyo showroom. “We are making our start from rock bottom.”
The global auto slump has battered Toyota, which lost 436.94 billion yen ($4.4 billion) in the fiscal year ended March, its worst loss ever. Toyota is expecting more red ink this fiscal year.
Toyoda’s news conference was short on specifics. He said the company will focus aggressively on some auto model sectors, while dropping others that it couldn’t hope to do well. But he declined to give details, saying the plans will be reviewed region by region.

Global oversight
Executive vice presidents will each oversee a global region – North America, Europe, Japan and emerging markets – to respond to changing consumer needs, Toyoda said.
He stressed that hybrid technology – seen in the success of the third-generation Prius, which has sold briskly since going on sale last month – was an example of a Toyota strength.
Officials said the company was keeping its global production capacity of 10 million vehicles, and not planning plant closures.
A board member since 2000, Akio is not an engineer like the Toyodas who came before him. But he has overseen China operations, Japan sales and Internet businesses, getting experience in various sectors, like any Toyota employee on a career track, reportedly because his father did not want to give him special treatment.
He also served as vice president at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a Fremont, California-based joint venture with GM, giving him key experience in the U.S.
There has been speculation that the Prius will be built at NUMMI, but Toyota officials have said they plan to build it in Blue Springs, where the company has invested $300 million to construct a $1.3 billion plant.
The shell of the plant is complete, but no equipment has been ordered. Analysts say it would take 12-18 months to get the plant going.

Wire and staff reports