TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) will rely more on emerging markets for sales and launch about 10 new hybrid models under a long-term strategy aimed at nearly doubling profits before 2015, its president said on Wednesday.
The world's largest car maker, trying to move on from a massive global recall of vehicles a year ago, will cut its board to 11 members by June from the current 27 to speed up decision-making as part of the blueprint.
Outlining his "Global Vision," Toyota President Akio Toyoda said the company would also eliminate one layer of management, while giving each geographic region a bigger role to bring the automaker closer to its customers after a recall of nearly 20 million cars since 2009 dented its reputation for quality.
"From now we aim to build a strong base for generating profits ... so that even under tough conditions with the dollar averaging 85 yen (64 pence) and sales of 7.5 million units, we can book an operating margin of 5 percent and an operating profit of about 1 trillion yen," Toyoda said.
"This means that even if we are hit with a major economic downturn again and sales fall about 20 percent, we will still be able to post profits. This is the bottom line of our sustainable growth plan."
Stefan Bratzel, head of the Centre for Automotive at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach said the plan marked an incremental improvement but no huge leap forward.
"The recall scandal in the U.S. showed Toyota was too slow to react but that doesn't necessarily have to do with the size of the board," he said.
Throughout the packed news conference, Toyoda stressed he did not want to fixate on numerical targets or estimates.
But Toyota said it would aim for an operating profit of 1 trillion yen ($12 billion) and a profit margin of 5 percent "as soon as possible" before 2015 assuming parent-only vehicle sales of 7.5 million units and a dollar of 85 yen. That compares with Toyota's forecast for a profit of 550 billion yen and margin of 2.9 percent in the financial year ending this month.
"Investors are looking for a slightly more specific plan," said Yoshihiro Okumura, general manager at Chibagin Asset Management, noting the lack of profit and margin target dates.
"With the intense competition in global markets against the likes of Hyundai Motor (005380.KS) and Volkswagen (VOWG.DE) it's not clear what Toyota's specific strategy is for staying ahead," Okumura said.
Toyota has struggled to improve its profit margins, which are weaker than those of Nissan (7201.T) and Honda (7267.T).
Last year Toyota stayed ahead of General Motors Co (GM.N) as the world's biggest automaker but by a thinner margin, while Volkswagen has mapped out a long-term plan to be world number one and sell over 10 million vehicles by 2018.
Executives have said that under Toyoda's leadership, the company has veered away from market share targets, previously a major growth driver during its boom years in the past decade.
New product launches, especially of hybrids, will be a key part of the battle to fend off Volkswagen, but quality is more important, said Metzler Equities analyst Juergen Pieper. Metzler's Pieper.
"Quality is their selling point. It's more important to overcome this quality issue than to bring out new products."
EMERGING MARKETS, HYBRID CARS
Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota's founder, said growth will build on two pillars: emerging markets and eco-friendly cars.
Sales outside mature markets would make up half of Toyota's sales by 2015 from 40 percent, he added, echoing the strategy of cutting a dependence on mature markets which France's Renault (RENA.PA) set out in its new plan last month.
Having dominated the hybrid field for over a decade with the Prius, Toyota said it will launch about 10 more hybrid models by 2015, adding to the 14 hybrids it currently has.
"It shows Toyota is staking its bets in the next 5-10 years that hybrids are going to be the key to market share," said Stuart Pearson, analyst at Morgan Stanley in London.
"I'm sure Toyota will keep their lead in hybrids in the near-term, in terms of volume at least."
While Toyota may be the hybrid leader for now, other carmakers are teaming up and investing in new technologies.
BMW (BMWG.DE) and PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) are investing 100 million euros in a hybrid joint venture, with technology set to equip their cars from 2014.
Although Toyota's loss-making, export-dependent Japanese operations remain a major drag because of the strong yen, its shares have outperformed recently as some analysts expect profitability to improve with the adoption of efficient manufacturing technologies and further cost cuts.
Toyoda expects the group's global sales, including mini-vehicle unit Daihatsu Motor and truck unit Hino Motors, to rise to 10 million in 2015 from 8.4 million in 2010.
Toyota shares have risen 13 percent over the past three months, outperforming rivals. The shares closed up 0.4 percent ahead of the release, roughly in line with the market .N225.
"It looks like it is finally catching up with Nissan and Honda in recovering (profitability) and I think that is being reflected in the share price," said Makoto Kikuchi, chief executive of Myojo Asset Management Japan.
"It's clear that Toyota's biggest mistake was to add too much production and the question (now) is how Toyoda is going to tackle that," he added.
(Additional reporting by Tim Kelly, Taiga Uranaka and Daiki Iga in Tokyo, Helen Massy-Beresford in Paris, Christiaan Hetzner in Frankfurt and Ploy Ten Kate in Bangkok, Editing by Anshuman Daga, Greg Mahlich)