Founder's grandson takes Toyota helm

Japanese carmaker Toyota has named the founder's grandson, Akio Toyoda, as its new president. The annoucement comes as the car giant announced its first sales drop in a decade, in proof that the crisis is hitting even the mightiest.


AFP - Toyota Motor on Tuesday named Akio Toyoda as its new president, turning to the grandson of its founder to rescue the company from its biggest ever crisis.

Toyoda, currently an executive vice president, will take the reins of Japan's biggest automaker in June, replacing Katsuaki Watanabe, who will become vice chairman. Fujio Cho will keep the post of chairman.

Toyoda, 52, has long been groomed for the top job. He will be the first member of the founding family in 14 years to become president, taking over at a crucial time for the company.

Toyota is famed worldwide for its efficient production methods but expects its first-ever operating loss this financial year due to the economic crisis.

Toyota hopes that the founding family scion can unite the company during the current crisis, which is forcing it to slash jobs and production, said Mamoru Kato, an auto analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Centre.

"The appointment will also promote the rejuvenation of the company, enabling management to rebuild its growth strategy. He is likely to correct the company's expansion policy and draw up a new path to follow," Kato said.

Toyota has expanded its global production facilities in recent years to meet brisk demand, particularly for its fuel-efficient cars, leaving it vulnerable to the current slump in worldwide sales.

Toyota said Tuesday its global sales fell four percent in 2008 to 8.97 million vehicles, the first drop in a decade, as demand slumped in recession-hit markets such as Japan, Europe and the United States.

The automaker's current chairman and president both come from outside the founding family but the Toyodas still wield influence, despite owning less than a one percent stake.

Its new president is the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda -- who founded the automaker in 1937 -- and the son of former president Shoichiro Toyoda.

Akio Toyoda became a board member in 2000 and was made an executive vice president in 2005, taking charge of Japanese sales and overseas operations.

Toyota, which vies with GM for the crown of the world's largest automaker, has moved to cut production, jobs and investment as a slump in sales and a soaring yen take a heavy toll on its finances.

It is considering shedding 3,000 more temporary workers at its domestic plants due to worsening sales, the Yomiuri newspaper reported Tuesday.

In November Japan's top automaker had said it might halve its temporary payrolls to 3,000 by the end of March.

Toyota said it had no firm plans for its temporary workforce.

"As we decide on the number of temporary workers based on production and sales plans, we cannot say for sure what their future numbers will be," a company spokeswoman said.

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