Jan 9, 2009

Business - Report: Toyota grandson to take top job

TOKYO (AP) The grandson of Toyota Motor Corp.'s founder will take the helm of Japan's top automaker in June, a newspaper said Friday.

Toyota's top executives will hold a board meeting as early as Monday to endorse the appointment of Akio Toyoda, 52, said the Nikkei daily, Japan's top business newspaper, citing no sources. Toyoda will officially take over leadership of Japan's auto giant following a shareholders' meeting in late June, it said.

Toyota is struggling to shore up its sagging sales at home and abroad amid a deepening global downturn, cutting output and the number of temporary workers. It shocked the nation last month by forecasting it will experience its first yearly operating loss in 70 years for the fiscal year ending March 2009, underlining a rapid deterioration in the global auto market.

Apart from the Nikkei daily, Japan's nationally circulated Asahi newspaper said in December that Toyoda long groomed for the top job will replace current president Katsuaki Watanabe as soon as April. Toyota denied the Asahi report, which did not cite sources.

Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi on Thursday declined to confirm the Nikkei report, saying nothing has been decided yet. She gave no further details.

The Nikkei said Watanabe is expected to become a vice chairman, and current chairman Fujio Cho will keep the post. It's no secret that the charismatic grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda is a best-bet candidate for future president a position in Japanese companies that wields great decision-making power and is the equivalent of chief executive in the U.S. The friendly and unpretentious Toyoda, who has appeared before reporters in a racing outfit unusual among staid suit-clad Japanese executives has come to symbolize the rejuvenation of Toyota's management.

Called Toyota's "prince" by the Japanese media, he has been among the youngest executives to join the board in 2000. He became one of the company's eight executive vice presidents in 2005 a number that has since been reduced to five.

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.

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