Toyota Motor on Tuesday named founding family member Akio Toyoda as its new president, replacing Katsuaki Watanabe. He was previously an executive vice-president.

Watanabe has been named a vice chairman, replacing retiring Katsuhiro Nakagawa. Fujio Cho remains president and Kazuo Okamoto a vice chairman, a Toyota statement said.

Toyoda is the grandson of Toyota’s founder and is charged with rescuing the company from its biggest ever crisis, Japanese media said.

Toyota Motor today reported a 4% year on year slump  in 2008 calendar year group global sales – its first dip in a decade – and last month forecast it would post what was reported variously as its first ever operating loss, or at least the first in decades, for the 2008/9 fiscal year.

Toyoda, 52, will be the first member of the founding family in 14 years to become president.

Toyota hopes that the family scion can unite the company during the current crisis, which is forcing it to slash jobs and production, Tokai Tokyo Research Centre auto analyst Mamoru Kato told Agence France-Presse.

“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.

AFP noted that, though the automaker’s current chairman and president both come from outside the founding family, the Toyodas still wield influence, despite owning less than a 1% stake.

The new president – who will be confirmed in his post at the June annual general meeting – is the grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded Toyota 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, in charge of Japanese sales and overseas operations, AFP said.