By Yoshio Takahashi
-- Toyota estimates 2011 group global sales at 7.90M vehicles, down 6%
-- Figure suggest Toyota will lose status as world's biggest auto company by sales
-- 2012 target for Toyota-only global sales at 8.48M vehicles, up 20%
(Recasts lead, adds background in 2nd-4th paragraphs)
TOKYO (MarketWatch) -- Toyota Motor Corp. looks set to be knocked off its perch as the world's biggest auto company by sales after it said Thursday that it estimates its global sales to fall 6% in calendar 2011 to 7.90 million vehicles, squeezed by natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.
The slacker-than-expected sales will likely leave the auto maker trailing General Motors Co. /zigman2/quotes/205226835/composite GM -1.81% and Volkswagen AG (VOW.EX) this year, putting an end to its three-year reign at the top of global auto sales. While Toyota hopes to achieve a strong rebound in 2012, there are doubts it will be able to regain top spot next year faced with a stubbornly strong yen that is continuing to blunt its competitive edge overseas.
For 2012, the car maker forecast its sales to grow 20% to 8.48 million as production returns to normal. But both the U.S. and German auto makers are looking to sustain their own momentum.
GM already sold 6.79 million vehicles in the first nine months of this year, up 9.2% from the same period a year earlier, and could sell over 9 million for the full year if it maintains a similar growth pace. Volkswagen boosted sales 14% to 7.51 million for the first 11 months of the year and has said it expects to sell more than 8 million vehicles this year.
The likely setback comes as Japan's biggest car maker by volume endures another tough year, with the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and massive flooding in Thailand earlier in the year. The previous year, Toyota was hit by its global recall crisis.
The challenging environment looks set to continue, too, as the soaring yen cuts into the profit margins of vehicles built in Japan.
Still, Toyota envisions ambitious plans further down the road, targeting global sales of 8.95 million vehicles and production of 8.98 million vehicles for 2013.
The numbers for 2011 include sales at its small-car making Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck-manufacturer Hino Motors Ltd. subsidiaries.
But the targets for the next two years reflect plans at Toyota only, excluding those for the two subsidiaries.