Friday, March 9, 2012

Toyota Motor’s comeback plans might accelerate Ontario plants

On track to becoming the world’s largest automaker, Japan’s Toyota has fallen recently on hard times. But a recent discussion with the president of Toyota Motor North America, Yoshimi Inaba shed some light on the automaker’s ambitious comeback plans, and how its plants in Ontario may benefit.

Last year, Toyota Canada sold only 162,260 Toyota, Lexus, and Scion vehicles, down 6 per cent from 2010. More worrisome, though, it was down more than 27 per cent from its all-time high of 224,158 cars and trucks in 2008.

With new rivals like Korea’s Hyundai-Kia Motors, and the Volkswagen Group, Toyota’s Inaba knows that today’s market is much more competitive than it was four or five years ago. But he wants to get back to selling about 200,000 vehicles in Canada annually, and regain customer confidence in a brand hurt by a massive series of product recalls, and accusations that Toyotas were accelerating unintentionally.

In the short-term, the turnaround seems already underway.

In February, Toyota Canada sales were up 31 per cent over the same month in 2011. And with its supply chain almost fully recovered from last year’s disruptions caused by natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, the automaker’s hybrid sales were up 169.4 per cent — the best ever February.

Long-term, the high evaluation of Japan’s yen is forcing all Japanese automakers to look at ways to make cars where they are sold. And this is where Toyota’s pair of Ontario plants in Cambridge and Woodstock — where it builds the Corolla, Matrix, and RAV4, as well as the Lexus RX in the only Lexus plant outside of Japan — may benefit.

“We are looking at increasing local production, and we are evaluating all the possibilities,” Inaba said.

If the yen continues to be high, Toyota may consider moving all RX production to Canada, or shipping North American-made parts back to Japan to offset the inflated currency costs.

Potential economic troubles lie behind Geneva show fanfare

As automakers put their best feet forward at this week’s Geneva Motor Show, Europe’s darkening economic outlook is causing concerns in the industry.

According to a report from Bloomberg, Ford, BMW, Toyota and others are girding for a sharp drop in European sales, after figures at the beginning of the year were far below expectations.

Sales were down 6.6 per cent to 1 million vehicles in January, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said. This was a deep decline on top of the 1.4 per cent drop during 2011.

The head of Ford in Europe, Stephen Odell, said the automaker is stopping production on some days to cut inventory.

Europe’s automakers looking for partners

In anticipation of those harder times ahead, there’s been plenty of chatter lately on automakers partnering or looking for partners.

Last week, General Motors announced plans to work with France’s Peugeot-Citroen in the hope to cut development and production costs.

Other companies have started looking to hook up as well.

Fiat-Chrysler is talking with Japan’s Suzuki and Mazda in hopes of some kind of cooperation, while BMW is also speaking with GM, as the German automaker looks for a U.S. partner.

Top three finalists declared for World Car Awards

From an initial entry list of 34 new vehicles sold around the world, three contenders for the 2012 World Car of the Year award — BMW 3 Series, Porsche 911, and Volkswagen Up ! — were announced this week.

As well, the Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4, McLaren MP4-12C, and Porsche 911 were declared as the finalists for the 2012 World Performance Car trophy, and the Ford Focus Electric, Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI BlueEfficiency, and the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid will duke it out for the 2012 World Green Car title.

The overall winners in all categories will be announced at April’s New York auto show.

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