PARIS - Toyota plans to increase its market share in France even before it opens its new plant in Valenciennes in 2001.
'We aim to reach a 3 percent market share in 2000, even 5 percent later on,' said Toyota Chairman Hiroshi Okuda in an interview with Le Monde newspaper.
Toyota has 1.2 percent of the French market, compared with 2.8 percent in Europe as a whole. As a French carmaker, Toyota expects to get a higher share there. In the UK, where it built its first European factory, Toyota had a 3.3 percent share last year.
Toyota's biggest markets are Germany (86,500) and the UK (67,400). Total European sales were 330,600 units in 1996.
Local Toyota leaders are even more ambitious.
'We have unlimited resources coming from Japan to allow us to reach the 100,000 units target and a 6 percent market share as quickly as possible,' said Daniel Lempereur, Toyota France sales manager.
Toyota's market share in France increased this year. Aggressive pricing, rebates and popular limited editions increased sales by 12 percent in the first 10 months of 1997 while the rest of the French market was falling by 24 percent. Sales should exceed 22,000 for the year in France and 370,000 in Europe.
'We would like to improve in 1998 as much as we did in 1997,' said Eric Amblard, a marketing executive with Toyota France.
Real estate sources in Paris say that next year Toyota will open a new 1,000-square-meter showroom on the Champs Elysees in Paris, near the premier showrooms of Renault, Peugeot, Citroen, Mercedes-Benz and Fiat. 'We are studying such a showroom, but nothing has been decided yet,' said a Toyota Europe spokesman.
An industry analyst said having a plant will help Toyota recruit new dealers. Toyota's present dealer network is considered weak. The 200 dealers are generally small, and sales per dealer average about eight per month.
'They were just coping with the quota system,' said Amblard. 'They are not used to looking for customers. This problem will not be solved by a miracle, even with a plant.'
Toyota owns 35 percent of Toyota France, its importer since 1971. The Swiss dealership group Frey owns the rest. Frey is Toyota's importer in France, Switzerland and Austria.
Toyota controls its importers in Germany, the UK and Italy.