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Toyota road map to retain top slot

Nagoya, Dec. 25 (Reuters): Toyota Motor will charge further into emerging car markets to achieve another year of record sales in 2008, likely cementing its title as the world’s biggest auto maker ahead of General Motors.

Toyota, already the world's most profitable and valuable car maker, said on Tuesday it expected to sell 9.85 million vehicles in 2008, up from an estimated 9.36 million this year — a result that was likely to nudge it past GM's sales forecast of 9.2 million for 2007.

With a product line-up, including the Camry and the Prius hybrid cars, Toyota has attracted more customers in emerging and mature markets alike, all the while increasing profits through cost cuts and economies of scale.

Stripping out GM's minority-held Chinese joint venture, the Toyota group, which includes Daihatsu Motor Co and Hino Motors Ltd, overtook the US giant in global vehicle sales last year.

Toyota, valued at around $190 billion, is likely to widen its sales gap with GM next year as the US auto maker scales back production in North America and prepares to sell off its medium-duty truck business to Navistar International Corp.

As with most other car makers, Toyota's growth has been especially brisk in the emerging car markets of China and Russia, where it expects combined sales of roughly 900,000 vehicles next year, a rise of nearly 40 per cent.

“The Chinese market has undergone a significant change during the year,” president Katsuaki Watanabe told a year-end news conference.

“At the beginning of the year, we wondered if the total auto market would reach 8 million, and by mid-year we were looking at 8.5 million. Now it's possible the market will exceed 9 million," he said. "We need to figure out how to meet demand."

Toyota has a target of selling 1 million cars a year in China soon after 2010, and executive vice-president Tokuichi Uranishi said it would need several new factories to ramp up supply.

Toyota has been expanding its factories and building new ones at breakneck speed around the world, including its first plant in Russia that opened last week.

Executives said Russia would drive expansion in Europe, where Toyota aims to increase sales by 2 per cent to 1.27 million vehicles next year.

Toyota expects to build 9.95 million vehicles globally next year, a rise of 5 per cent.

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