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BUSINESS - Toyota may slip in int’l ranking

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Co may slip to No. 3 in the automaker production rankings behind General Motors and Volkswagen due to Japan’s earthquake and nuclear crisis, which slashed local output by almost two-thirds in March alone.
A shortage of parts in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami has savaged Japan’s auto sector supply chain, while damage to a major nuclear plant has disrupted power supplies.
Investors expecting overseas rivals to benefit from a prolonged slump in Japanese output pushed up shares in South Korea’s Hyundai Motors and associate Kia Motors to record highs on Monday.
“Hyundai and Kia will be the biggest beneficiaries of the struggling Japanese car industry,” said Suh Sung-moon, an analyst at Korea Investment & Securities in Seoul. “Hyundai will focus on the high-end market and Kia has the capacity to boost volume shipments. It’s a great mixture to catch up with Japanese rivals.”
Honda Motor Co, Japan’s No. 3 automaker, said on Monday it would take until the end of the year before production returned to normal, echoing comments from Toyota on Friday.
Honda, which reported domestic production shrank 62.9 percent in March, said output would be at 50 percent of its original plans until the end of June. Domestic production at Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, plummeted 62.7 percent in March, while Japan’s No. 2 Nissan Motor Co said its corresponding figure fell 52.4 percent. Toyota is almost certain to lose the top producer ranking it has held since 2008 to General Motors this year and could fall behind No. 3 Volkswagen, said Koji Endo, managing director of Advanced Research Japan in Tokyo.
Toyota, which sold 8.42 million vehicles last year versus GM’s 8.39 million, was on track to post sales of around 6.5 million units this year, Endo said. Other analysts, lacking clear guidance from Toyota, expect sales of roughly 6.3 million to 7 million units.
“Most likely GM will produce 8 million-plus and Volkswagen will produce around 7 million, so most likely Toyota will be third, GM will be first,” Endo said.
Volkswagen has a stated goal of taking Toyota’s No.1 spot and expects its 2011 sales to top the record 7.14 million vehicles it sold last year.
Toyota, criticized by some analysts and investors for its aggressive expansion in the early 2000s, played down the prospect of losing its top ranking.
Standard & Poor’s later cut its outlook on six major Japanese automakers and suppliers to negative from stable.

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