TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. raised its global sales forecast because of Japanese government incentives on fuel-efficient vehicles and demand for its Prius compact gasoline-electric hybrid car.
Sales, excluding those of subsidiaries Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd., will climb 21 percent to 8.58 million vehicles this year, Toyota said Wednesday. That's 100,000 units more than the company's projection last month.
Toyota was outsold by General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG in 2011 and is counting on government incentives and the new Prius hybrid to help the company regain market share lost last year, when natural disasters in Japan and Thailand crippled production.
The recovery will help the maker of the Camry sedan double profits next fiscal year after shortfalls in output lead to a decline in earnings in the 12 months ending March, according to analysts' estimates.
"Incentives in the domestic market will definitely give Toyota an advantage over GM and VW," said Satoru Takada, a Tokyo-based auto analyst at research firm Toward The Infinite World Inc. "With the earthquake and flooding gone, Toyota's sales will rebound in all of its markets."
Toyota still faces the strength of the yen, which has appreciated more against the dollar than any other major currency in the past six months, undermining the value of Japanese exports.
The company also faces a healthier GM, which became the world's biggest automaker in 2011 two years after exiting a U.S. government-backed bankruptcy, and the rising popularity of Hyundai Motor Co.'s cars worldwide.
The yen, coupled with the production disruptions stemming from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, led to Japan's first annual trade gap since 1980, according to government figures released today.
To protect a domestic industry reeling from natural disasters and the yen's appreciation, the Japanese government last month began waiving some taxes and offering rebates for certified low-emission vehicles, allocating 300 billion yen ($3.8 billion) in the fiscal budget.
Eligible consumers will be exempt from paying the 3 percent purchase tax, the 2,500 yen per half-ton duty and receive a rebate, according to the nation's transport ministry.
Tax breaks, rebates
For example, customers of the Prius hatchback, which starts at 2.17 million yen, can get 135,500 yen in tax breaks and a 100,000 yen rebate, according to Toyota's Web site.
By comparison, consumers in the U.S. who purchase low- emission vehicles such as GM's Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf are eligible for a federal tax rebate of $7,500.
The Japanese state aid will help the nation's automakers increase sales by 900,000 vehicles in their home market during 2012 after a record 14 percent drop in 2011, Toshiyuki Shiga, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, said late last month.
Toyota may sell 1.63 million vehicles in its home market and 6.95 million overseas, Senior Managing Director Masamoto Maekawa said in Nagoya, Japan. The company received orders exceeding 100,000 for the compact Aqua, known as the Prius c in the U.S., and about 3,000 for the plug-in version of the Prius in Japan since their introduction late last year, he said.
Delivering on time
"We are currently assessing our production lines of the Aqua, and we hope to deliver all our cars on time," Maekawa said.
Demand for the new Prius may lead Toyota to also raise its 2012 production target for the model by 30 percent to 320,000 units, the Nikkei newspaper reported today.
Those figures would indicate global sales of the model may exceed the total number of cars bearing the Prius name that Toyota projects to sell in the U.S. this year.
Jim Lentz, head of sales in the U.S., Toyota's biggest market, said in Detroit this month that Prius sales in the country would climb more than 60 percent to a record and exceed 220,000 vehicles, fueled by the new smaller version of the hybrid hatchback