US: New boss reviewing Toyota operations
Toyota is not currently profitable in North America despite cost cutting and is reviewing all of its operations there, the new top executive for the market has said.
On Toyota Motor America president and COO and Toyota Motor Sales USA CEO Yoshimi Inaba's agenda are decisions on whether to close the NUMMI factory in California after GM ends its involvement in the 25-year-old joint venture and when to open a factory in Mississippi that is currently just a completed shell.
Inaba met US media at Toyota's Washington office on Monday and, according to the Detroit News, said he hoped Toyota could return to profit in North America next fiscal year.
Inaba also said the unprecedented restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler Group were "good for the country" and would benefit Ford. But he saw no significant role for the Obama administration in helping Toyota return to profitability.
"We should manage our own destiny," Inaba, a former top sales executive who recently returned to the Japanese automaker, was quoted as saying by Reuters.
"We are not short of cash," he added.
Inaba said the playing field for foreign manufacturers should be level and would not rule out Toyota applying at some point for energy department advanced technology loans.
GM's NUMMI exit "put us in a very difficult position," Inaba said, according to the Detroit News. "We are carefully evaluating all the options."
He didn't commit to a timetable for a decision on Nummi, but said a decision would be made "quite soon." He added Toyota hadn't received an incentive package from California yet.
The hourly workers at Nummi are represented by the United Auto Workers, and the contract expires next month. Inaba said the UAW contract "is one consideration, but not the single deciding factor."
Inaba noted that California is Toyota's single biggest market in the United States, and closing the factory would negatively impact its image there.
Toyota has said it may build the Prius in Mississippi, a plant originally planned for Highlander (Kruger) SUVs, but Inaba said those plans were unclear.
Asked whether Toyota could shelve its Mississippi plant permanently, Inaba said, "I hope not," and added, "I'm not that pessimistic" about its future.
Inaba refused to rule out layoffs or plant closures at its other North American plants and said the company had made mistakes in making too many decisions in Japan, urging more "decentralisation" of decision-making.
Because of Toyota's success for the last eight years, there was an attitude among some executives that, "OK, now we have been so successful, we understand the market, so can make a decision there rather than here," Inaba said.
Inaba said the company was listening to the market, and customers "had been a little bit lost."
He also said GM and Chrysler were right to shrink their dealer networks. Toyota, he said, had no plans to expand its dealer network in the US.
According to Reuters, Inaba saw signs of improvement and expects overall industry US sales to grow from just under 10m units annually now to between 11 and 13m units over the next year.