Toyota Motor Corp. has raised its 2004 vehicle sales forecast by 4% to a record 7.39 million units helped by stellar demand overseas, saying projects were in place to ensure continued expansion over the long term, Reuters reported.

The news agency noted that Japan’s top auto maker is racing ahead of rivals in the saturated US and Western European regions, driven by popular products like the remodelled Prius hybrid car and UK-built Avensis saloon, while enjoying strong growth in the nascent Asian markets along with the rest of the industry.

After unseating Ford as the world’s second-biggest car maker in 2003, Toyota now expects a 9% rise in global sales this year at the group, which includes minivehicle maker Daihatsu and truck maker Hino, Reuters added.

“We believe the car market is going to grow more in the longer term, especially in populous China and India, as well as in the developing Eastern European and Russian markets,” Toyota president Fujio Cho reportedly told a news conference on Tuesday.

“We have various projects in the pipeline to continue our expansion, and we will aim to keep up with the growth in the overall market,” he added according to Reuters, citing previously announced plans to start building vehicles in Texas and the Czech Republic.

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In North America, where sales surpassed the two million unit target last year, Cho reportedly said Toyota would flex its product offerings in the hybrid and light truck segments, and for the new Scion brand aimed at a growing demographic of young drivers, the report said.

Reuters noted that Toyota’s sales in the profitable US market alone have already exceeded a million units in the year to date, growing 10% as orders for the Prius hybrid run far ahead of supply.

Cho, however, reportedly denied a Wall Street Journal report that Toyota was planning to further boost output capacity for the fuel-efficient car – in April, it finished raising capacity to around 10,000 units a month.

Reuters said Toyota also plans to keep building more vehicles in Europe, topping up capacity at its British plant by one-third to meet rising demand for the Avensis and Corolla models – it will also begin producing 100,000 small cars in the Czech Republic through a joint venture with PSA Peugeot Citroen.

“With the launch of the Lexus luxury line in Japan next year, we are paving the road for stronger sales in the future,” Cho reportedly told the news conference.

For the Toyota brand only, sales are seen at 6.61 million vehicles this year instead of the 6.33 million forecast in December, also representing a 9% increase from 2003, Reuters reported.