Japanese giant Toyota, which aims to raise sales in Europe by one- third in four years, will remain independent and only seek tie-ups or collaboration deals, the company said yesterday .
'Toyota has the size, the diversification and the product to remain an independent player,' Toyota Motor Europe executive vice- president Mr Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz said, addressing the Automotive News Europe annual congress in Montreux, Switzerland.

Toyota has been tipped as a likely candidate to step into the takeover turmoil which so far this year has seen German-US group DaimlerChrysler take a big stake in Mitsubishi Motors of Japan, and General Motors and Fiat of Italy swap shares. Ford earlierthis year bought Land Rover.

Toyota was rumoured to be looking covetously at PSA Peugeot Citroen of France and German luxury car maker BMW, a perennial takeover candidate.

Did Toyota plan to take over Peugeot or BMW, a member of the audience asked Mr Diaz Ruiz.

'No. We have no takeover plans but continue to look for continued collaboration in any practical fields where it makes sense,' he said.

Toyota, which has its UK plant at Burnaston, near Derby, was number three in the world last year with sales of 5.4 million vehicles, behind Ford's 7.2 million and GM's 8.8 million.

Mr Diaz Ruiz said Toyota was determined to do better in Europe, where it had seriously underperformed.

'We are weak in Europe, but improving. We are continuing to consolidate and we are open to tie-ups or collaboration with suitable partners,' he said.

Last year it had a western Europe market share of three per cent. It plans to raise this to five per cent or 800,000 cars by 2005, he reiterated.

In contrast, Toyota has a market share of around 18 per cent in the United States and a whopping 41 per cent of its home market.

Car manufacturers under pressure to deliver healthier profits are hoping the Internet will help their businesses to make big cost cuts and operational efficiencies.

As the Montreux automotive congress heard of cuts in the cost of making vehicles of up to 15 per cent, an industry engineering consultancy, Ricardo, which has its Midlands technical centre at Leamington Spa, gave details yesterday of a new e- business initiative.

It will serve the needs of all European automotive suppliers regardless of size and looks how e-business can be operated in the supplier sector.