(Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp. took the unusual step of projecting a drop in annual vehicle sales on Wednesday in a move that could see Volkswagen steal the industry crown this year as demand slumps in Japan, Indonesia and other key markets.
The forecast underscores Chief Executive Akio Toyoda's resolve to steer the company through measured, profitable growth rather than chase volumes after getting burned by a capacity glut in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis.
Toyota said on Wednesday it expects 2015 global vehicle sales, including those of subsidiaries Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd., to slip 1 percent to 10.15 million vehicles.
The world's biggest automaker has not forecast a drop in annual vehicle sales since at least 2000, a spokeswoman said. That excludes a mid-year revision in 2011, when natural disasters temporarily halted production. Toyota did not provide initial forecasts for 2009 amid uncertainty during the financial crisis.
CEO Toyoda has declared a three-year freeze on building new factories through the financial year to March 2016 to focus on becoming leaner and more profitable, even as Toyota took the top sales spot back from General Motors in 2012.
Toyota expects growth in China, the world's biggest auto market, to halve this year after sales fell short of its target in 2014 on the back of a slowing economy and political tensions between Beijing and Tokyo.
In contrast, China, the world's biggest car market, helped rival Volkswagen clock in growth of 4.2 percent to 10.14 million vehicles last year. The group's aggressive expansion plans could see it reach a goal of overtaking Toyota this year, ahead of its self-imposed deadline of 2018.
Toyota expects its parent-only sales to rise 0.4 percent to 9.18 million vehicles, with a 7 percent fall to 1.45 million in Japan, where a sales tax hike last year has hit demand. It expects overseas sales to rise 2 percent to 7.73 million vehicles, thanks to a healthy U.S. market.
In 2014, group-wide sales grew 3 percent to 10.231 million vehicles.
Toyota's sales in Indonesia, Southeast Asia's biggest economy, fell 11 percent last year. The Indonesian automobile market is expected to remain weak in 2015 after the reduction of fuel subsidies.