Toyota returns to founding roots in choosing new
By YURI KAGEYAMA,AP Business Writer AP - 38 minutes ago
TOKYO - Toyota tapped Akio Toyoda, grandson of the Japanese automaker's founder, as president Tuesday, paying homage to its roots at a time when the company faces its first operating loss in 70 years.
The U.S.-educated Toyoda, 52, is the first founding family member to take the helm at Japan's No. 1 automaker in 14 years. He promised a reaffirmation of the company's core principles, such as valuing ideas from the ranks _ a management approach called "kaizen" that has made Toyota Motor Corp.'s production methods famous in industry circles around the world.
"Having been born a Toyoda did not happen by choice," he told reporters. "But I want to do my best as Akio Toyoda for what I believe in."
Analysts say Toyoda faces enormous challenges. Just hours before his appointment, Toyota announced that global sales last year fell for the first time in 10 years, falling 4 percent to 8.972 million vehicles.
Highlighting the dire outlook for Toyota, which has been racing to overtake General Motors as the world's top automaker, expects to sink into its first operating loss in 70 years of 150 billion yen ($1.69 billion) for the fiscal year ending March 31.
"I am simply determined to do my utmost in being handed this big role of steering Toyota as it faces what has been said to be its worst crisis in a century," Toyoda said in a Tokyo news conference.
A new, younger leadership and the charisma of a Toyoda, may be exactly what the ailing automaker needs to bring its ranks together and send a strong message of change, analysts said.
"Toyota is raising the flag," said Yasuaki Iwamoto, auto analyst at Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo. "It sends a strong message that moves toward change will be sped up. And that's an important message."
The appointment does not mean however that Toyoda alone holds the reins, Iwamoto added, because the company tends to be managed by a team of leaders, which will include President Katsuaki Watanabe, who becomes vice chairman with Toyoda's rise.
Company employees say the Toyoda family name holds special meaning, although the Toyodas own only a tiny portion of the automaker's stock. The founder's family name is spelled with a "d," but the company name was changed to read Toyota as that was considered luckier according to Japanese superstition, Toyota says.
Fujio Cho, a former president who has overseen Toyota's growth in North America and is staying on as chairman, said Toyoda had the true Toyota spirit in feeling a bond with customers.
"A company needs to be more than just a strong company. It needs to be a good company," Cho said, appearing at Toyoda's side at Toyota's Tokyo office. "He is not another 'salaryman' like me."
Cho acknowledged the decision was made earlier than initially planned, partly because of the intense public interest and some Japanese media reports last month that said Toyoda was going to replace Watanabe.
Toyoda's appointment still needs shareholders' approval at a meeting in June.
The friendly and unpretentious Toyoda _ grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded Toyota seven decades ago _ has been called Toyota's "prince" by the Japanese media as one of the youngest executives to join the board, in 2000.
Toyoda, who holds a master's degree in business administration from Babson College in the U.S., has overseen Toyota's China operations, Japan sales and the Internet business. Previously, he served as vice president at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a Fremont, California-based joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Corp., giving him key experience in the U.S.
At his news conference, Toyoda sent a message about job protection, stressing that he wanted to be "a president who was close to the workers."
Like other Japanese automakers, Toyota has been reducing temporary workers at its auto plants in Japan to curb production amid the global recession.
The use of such workers had been illegal in manufacturing in Japan until 2004, but their numbers have grown in recent years at all Japanese automakers as a way to cut costs and adjust production.
But the thousands of temporary workers who have lost their jobs are emerging as a major social problem _ partly because Japan, a corporate culture that promised lifetime employment for decades, wasn't prepared to deal with them.
"When a person is employed at a company, that person should feel at the end that it was a good life. It should be a place you would want for those who are close to you, like family," he said, while stopping short of promising no layoffs. "Stabilizing employment is very important."
Until last year, Toyota's sales had been booming because of its reputation for mileage and quality.
Toyota has been on track to dethrone General Motors Corp. as the world's No. 1 automaker by annual sales, a title GM held for 77 years, though the parlous state of the global auto industry would make it a hollow victory.
Detroit-based GM is scheduled to give its global vehicles sales tally Wednesday.
For the first half of this year, GM, pummeled by falling U.S. sales and high gas prices, lost the global sales lead to Toyota, by about 277,500 vehicles.
The gap has widened since then. Toyota reported it sold 7.05 million cars worldwide during the first nine months of the year, compared with 6.66 million for GM for the same period.
Watanabe said Toyoda was the best person to lead Toyota.
"We are in a crisis," he said. "We need a new point of view, and an ability to act."
Toyota shares rose 2.3 percent to 3,100 yen in Tokyo. Toyota said it was announcing a new president before trading closed.
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