Saturday, January 06, 2007


January 5, 2007
Saying the No. 1 Ranking Is Worth Keeping, G.M.’s Chief Vows to Fight Toyota

DETROIT, Jan. 4 — General Motors is not ready to concede its position as the world’s largest automaker, the chief executive, Rick Wagoner, said Thursday, but he offered scant evidence that the company could fend off a challenge from Toyota, its Japanese rival.
“I like being No. 1,” Mr. Wagoner said, “and I think our people take pride in that, so it’s not something that we’re going to sit back and let somebody else pass us by.” But in an hourlong discussion with reporters, Mr. Wagoner said G.M. was not ready to project how many vehicles it would sell this year. Two weeks ago, Toyota set a global sales goal of 9.34 million for 2007, about 3 percent more than the 9.1 million vehicles that G.M. sold worldwide in 2006.
Mr. Wagoner noted that G.M.’s plants were capable of building more vehicles than Toyota intended to sell, but he added that output was going to depend on whether sales were strong in geographic regions where G.M. had available capacity.
He said G.M., which has been the largest carmaker since 1931, expects to increase sales this year in several regions outside the United States, particularly China, Russia and South America.
Mr. Wagoner spoke on the same day that the chief executive of another Detroit automaker, Thomas W. LaSorda of the Chrysler Group, announced a goal of doubling sales outside North America within five years.
Mr. Wagoner did not offer any such predictions, and he gave no indication that G.M. would fare significantly better in the United States in 2007 than in 2006, when its market share fell to 24.3 percent from 26 percent. In that period, Toyota’s share climbed to 15.4 percent, from 13.3 percent, according to the Autodata Corporation, the industry statistics company in Woodcliff Lake, N.J.
In December, G.M.’s sales in the United States fell nearly 10 percent, worse than analysts had anticipated, while Toyota’s rose about 17 percent. American dealerships accounted for about 45 percent of G.M.’s global sales in 2006.
If anything, analysts expect G.M. to sell fewer vehicles in much of the world this year, as it reduces production capacity by closing plants. Mr. Wagoner said the closings were meant to ensure G.M.’s long-term success.
“If, as a result of that, we get passed, well it won’t be a happy day for me, but I’ve lost basketball games before in my life,” said Mr. Wagoner, who played basketball for Duke University. “You get ready, you learn and you go back and play the next day.”
He went on, “We’re going to fight to keep the position and if one day we lose it, we’ll fight to get it back.”
Jeff Manning, president of the United Automobile Workers local union in Kansas City, Kan., where 3,000 G.M. workers build the Saturn Aura and Chevrolet Malibu, said falling behind Toyota would be a disappointment, though palatable if necessary for G.M. to stop losing money.
“Being No. 1 is a top priority, but is it the No. 1 priority? Probably not,” Mr. Manning said. “If it makes them profitable then that would probably be O.K. The No. 1 goal is to be profitable.”
Ford’s Plans in Brazil
SÃO PAULO, Brazil, Jan. 4 ( Reuters) — Ford Motor said on Thursday it would invest $1.02 billion in Brazil through 2011, including the amount it would pay for the off-road vehicle maker Troller.
Ford, which has been suffering financial problems, did not say how much it would pay for Troller.
Based in the northeastern state of Ceara, Troller produces about 100 vehicles each month in two off-road models: the T4 jeep and a pickup called the Pantanal. The company said in November that it was in talks to sell to Ford.
Ford said the investments would be in addition to about $139 million it planned to spend on product development and capacity expansion at a plant in São Paulo State.
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