Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Akio Toyoda gives LEXUS a high Priority


New York: By Akio Toyoda's own admission, his beloved Lexus luxury brand has a big problem.
Unlike its German rivals, Lexus has no heritage, no narrative.
Now the Toyota Motor Corp. president is investing himself personally in the brand by taking direct control of all things Lexus. His new role at Lexus' helm was a significant, yet largely overlooked, step in a sweeping management overhaul he unveiled in March.
In an interview prior to a Lexus event here, Toyoda said his goal is to imbue Lexus with more of the founding family's legacy and his own personal taste in cars. Toyoda said his job will be looking at the lineup with the "right side of the brain."
Toyoda, 57, said Lexus was derailed by bean counters during Toyota's decade of explosive growth. Now it is in the hands of the company's No. 1 car guy: Akio Toyoda.
In March, Toyoda reorganized the company by splitting it into four parts. One develops Toyota-brand vehicles for mature markets such as the United States and Japan. Another develops Toyota vehicles for emerging markets. A third conducts r&d on core shared technologies, such as engines and transmissions. And Lexus was carved out as the fourth stand-alone unit.
The other business units have an executive vice president who reports to Toyoda. But for Lexus, the president cut out the middleman.
Toyoda shakes hands with a robot that stars in a new Lexus commercial.

The shift carries risks, not the least of which is anchoring the brand's image to the whims of a single executive. Toyoda is putting his own reputation -- and possibly his job -- on the line if his gambit falls short.
"What other brands have, but Lexus lacks, is a story, its own story, narrative or history," Toyoda said before the April 19 launch party for a global marketing campaign for Lexus. "I think the contents I can bring, as the head of a global company, also as a racing driver and as part of the founding family, could be conducive to story-making for Lexus."
Toyoda plans to leave his own fingerprints on the brand by:
• Strengthening Lexus' identity apart from Toyota.
• Injecting more flash into styling.
• Making the brand known for handling and driving qualities.
"When we have a design screening, my role is to simply talk with the right side of the brain," Toyoda said. "There are already enough people at Toyota who use the left side of the brain. You need to be able to say, 'Wow! I want that!'"
Lexus clearly trails German luxury brands in the legacy category.
Toyota Motor, which just celebrated its 75th anniversary, rose from its humble origins as a spinoff from a loom maker to become the world's largest automaker.
But its Lexus brand dates back to just 1989 -- more than century after German engineer Karl Benz founded Mercedes-Benz in 1886.
And Lexus was conceived more as a premium sales channel than as a stand-alone marque, Toyoda said. For years after Lexus' debut in the United States, its nameplates were also sold in Japan as Toyotas.
"Lexus was born as a channel," Toyoda said. "One decision this time around is to really nurture and develop Lexus as a brand."
In 2012, Lexus' global sales climbed 23 percent to 477,000 units, as supply rebounded after being cut by the 2011 earthquake in Japan.
This year, worldwide sales should top 500,000 -- just shy of their all-time high of 518,300 in 2007, said Mark Templin, executive vice president of Lexus International.
In the United States, sales peaked at 329,177 in 2007, capping 12 straight years of growth. They slid in three of the five years since, with the only increases being a 6 percent gain in 2010 and a 23 percent rise, to 244,166, last year. Templin aims to surpass 260,000 in 2013.
Yet sales are still below those of the glory days.
Through April, U.S. sales rose 12 percent to 74,831, putting Lexus off the pace of its 2013 target. Lexus also trailed both Mercedes and BMW, as it has in recent years after a long run as the top-selling U.S. luxury brand.
Toyoda said he isn't focused on the numbers. As the final arbiter on Lexus, his job is the soft side. His top priorities for improving the brand are better styling and handling -- not necessarily customer service, premium features or added bells and whistles.
His own opinions about what the cars should be often butt heads with those of the Toyota bureaucracy. But Toyoda said that the jousting of opinions, a rarity in the past, is needed to churn out better cars.
"By having competition and conflict between the ideas that the bureaucracy has and my own personal concept of what the Lexus brand should be, that will bring us closer to what Lexus should be and the polished gem I want it to be," Toyoda said.
The downside: the plan largely hinges on the boss' own tastes.
"If it doesn't go well, he's putting himself at personal risk," said Chris Richter, an analyst with CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Tokyo. "But he could also be taking a risk by doing nothing. At least he knows what cars are all about."
Toyoda wants engineers to think more with their gut and less with their calculators, and cites the LF-LC sports coupe concept shown at the 2012 Detroit auto show.
Lexus executives originally brought the sculpted, low-slung rear-wheel-drive luxury hybrid to him as a pitch for their ultimate dream car. The debate that followed signaled changing attitudes.
"Before, we'd begin by talking about how many units we can sell, how much money we can make. Now, before even doing that, we're starting with, 'Wow, I want to build that car,'" Toyoda said. "We are now moving in the direction of a new Lexus."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nissan taps Korea for output as U.S. expansion proves inadequate


NASHVILLE -- Nissan Motor Co. is turning to Korean automaker Samsung to take the heat off its North American production needs as it struggles to stay a step ahead of U.S. sales forecasts.
Nissan is expanding its two big U.S. auto plants in Tennessee and Mississippi, adding both floor space and work shifts to build more Altimas, Sentras, Versas and Rogues. But it is not enough, the company has concluded.
This week, Nissan said it will invest $160 million to launch Rogue production at an underused Renault Samsung Motors factory in Busan, South Korea. Samsung will produce 80,000 Rogues a year for the United States and other export markets, on top of the 100,000 to 120,000 Rogues that Nissan will begin building at its Smyrna, Tenn., factory starting next year.
Two years ago when Nissan decided to move the Japan-made Rogue to a U.S. plant, annual U.S. sales of the crossover totaled just under 100,000 units. Last year, Rogue sales reached 124,543 units. This year, the company forecasts U.S. sales of at least 150,000, and demand is still increasing. Through June, 71,838 Rogues were sold.
The expanded Tennessee plant originally was expected to have enough available Rogue capacity to supply exports to Canada, Mexico and Brazil.
The company's primary motivation has been to move the Rogue out of Japan, where the high yen is undermining company profits, according to Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn.
Nissan Americas spokesman David Reuter said that with the added production in Korea, Rogue output will end in Japan.
Nissan Division's U.S. sales totaled 523,344 units through June, up 14 percent from the first six months of 2011. U.S. sales of Infinitis, which are all Japanese imports except for the new JX, totaled 54,377 units in the same period, an increase of 15 percent from the first six months of 2011.
Nissan is pulling its U.S. plants in multiple directions. Last month it said it will add Sentra production in Canton, Miss., in anticipation of a redesigned model next year, and it has also just launched production of the new Infiniti JX crossover at Smyrna, which is proving to be a high-volume product.
Of more pressing concern for Nissan, the company's assembly lines are designed to offer production flexibility among various products. That means that when sales of the just-introduced 2013 Nissan Altima increase, as Nissan is forecasting for the next two years, it must take production capacity away from other models.
Nissan has just begun construction of a $2 billion factory in Aguascalientes, Mexico -- its second in the city -- that will produce 150,000 B-segment vehicles a year. Nissan has not specified which model the plant will produce.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Toyota Seen Exceeding GM’s Profit This Fiscal Year


Toyota Motor Corp. (7203)’s profit may climb to a five-year high and exceed General Motors Co. (GM)’s earnings this year, signaling Asia’s biggest carmaker is close to full force after reeling from natural disasters and a recall crisis.
Net income at the Camry-sedan maker, which reports financial results tomorrow, may triple to 817.7 billion yen ($10 billion) in the fiscal year ending March 2013, according to the average of 21 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. That’s more than Detroit-based GM’s estimated profit over the next four quarters.
Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles sit lined up waiting dealer delivery at the company's logistics services inside the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California.
Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder, is rolling out new Prius hybrids, Corolla compacts and Lexus sedans as he seeks to regain market share in what may be his first crisis-free year since becoming president in 2009. While production has returned to normal, Toyoda now faces a reborn GM that’s No. 1 in global sales, a rising Hyundai Motor Co. (005380) and a growing Volkswagen AG (VOW) that’s dominating luxury-car sales in China.
“This will truly be a test year for Toyoda because the success of a president’s business strategies can really be seen when there are no irregular factors,” said Mitsushige Akino, who oversees about $600 million at Ichiyoshi Investment Management Co. in Tokyo. “He must be coming out stronger because of the many challenges he’s faced, so I think we can look forward to seeing how he narrows the gap against GM.”

Shares Outperform

Shares of Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota rose as much as 1.1 percent in Tokyo trading today. They’ve gained 22 percent this year, outperforming Nissan Motor Co. (7201), Honda Motor Co. (7267) and GM. The stock has recouped more than half of its losses since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami ravaged northeastern Japan last year.
Toyota may forecast sales will climb 12 percent to 20.8 trillion yen in the 12 months ending March 2013 and top all carmakers in terms of revenue, though not in terms of net income, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg. VW is projected to earn more.
By volume, the Japanese carmaker said in February that deliveries -- including those of itsDaihatsu Motor Co. (7262) and Hino Motors Ltd. (7205) units -- will increase 21 percent to a record 9.58 million vehicles in the regular calendar year. That would be more than last year’s sales by GM, which hasn’t given a forecast for 2012.
Toyota’s rebound is already under way. Analysts estimate profit during the fiscal fourth quarter jumped fivefold to 140.1 billion yen, the highest in almost two years, as Toyota cranked up production 36 percent and led the Japanese auto industry’s recovery. The yen, which appreciated and eroded the value of Japanese exports in 2010 and 2011, has reversed course by becoming the worst-performing major currency during 2012.

Not Enough

GM last week reported net income fell 61 percent to $1.32 billion on losses and restructuring costs in Europe. Analysts estimate it will earn $7.38 billion over the next four quarters, excluding preferred dividends, which last year totaled $1.61 billion. Volkswagen’s first-quarter profit almost doubled to 3.17 billion euros ($4.1 billion).
Toyota’s fourth-quarter rebound wasn’t enough to keep full- year income from tumbling 33 percent to 272.9 billion yen as the Japanese disaster and subsequent floods in Thailand crippled automotive output, according to the analyst estimates. Toyota wasn’t alone as Tokyo-based Honda last month reported annual profit fell 60 percent and Yokohama, Japan-based Nissan, which reports May 11, has said since February that net income would slide 7.9 percent in the year ended March 2012.
For Toyoda, the natural disasters followed the crisis he oversaw during 2009 and 2010, when defects related to unintended acceleration led to the recall of more than 10 million vehicles -- more than Toyota has sold in its best year.

Toyoda’s Wish

“What we want more than anything is for nothing to go wrong this year,” Toyoda told reporters in Tokyo in March.After ceding its title as the world’s largest automaker to GM in 2011, not much is going wrong for Toyota in its two biggest markets this year.
Pent-up demand and government subsidies, which last until January, have helped Japan grow faster than any other major auto market this year. Passenger-vehicle sales in the country have jumped 57 percent during the first four months of 2012, led by Toyota’s Prius hybrids, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association. That has benefited Toyota, which produces about two out of five vehicles sold in the country.
In the U.S., Toyota’s deliveries have increased 12 percent this year -- outpacing GM, Ford Motor Co. (F), Nissan and Honda -- led by sales of the Camry sedan and the Prius hybrids, as buyers who put off purchases returned to dealerships to find more fuel- efficient models. Total U.S. light-vehicle sales, which rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 14.4 million in April, have exceeded analysts’ estimates three out of four months this year.

China Vulnerability

In Europe and China, where auto sales fell during the first quarter, Toyota has been less vulnerable to slumping demand because it is less reliant on those markets than companies such as PSA Peugeot Citroen (UG) and GM. Toyota, which had a global market share of about 10 percent in 2011, accounted for 3.2 percent of Europe’s market and 4.3 percent in China, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Recovering market share in the U.S. won’t be hard for Toyota, but whether they will be able to grow in China and other markets where their presence is weak is going to be a challenge,” said Takashi Aoki, a fund manager at Mizuho Asset Management Co. in Tokyo. “As profitability recovers in the U.S., Toyota should look for ways to utilize that to catch up in China and elsewhere.”
Source:Bloomberg

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Nissan cruises in China as Japan rivals play catch-up


BEIJING (Reuters) -- Nissan Motor Co. is proving that being late to the party in China doesn't have to be a handicap, and is poised to widen its lead among Japanese automakers in the world's biggest car market with speedy and aggressive expansion plans.

Despite being among the last global automakers to enter the Chinese market, Nissan outsold Toyota Motor Corp. to become the top Japanese light-vehicle brand there last year for the first time, according to research firm LMC Automotive.
Aiding Nissan's climb have been its cooperative partnership with state-owned Dongfeng Motor Group in the heavily regulated market.
It is also benefitting from an early foray into the booming inland regions and a full product lineup ranging from premium Infiniti-brand cars to light commercial vehicles and compacts such as the popular Tiida model.
After a bumper 2011, Nissan's local joint venture, Dongfeng Motor Co., was the fastest-growing automaker in China in the first quarter of 2012, growing 16 percent in a market that fell 0.3 percent from the year before.
In another step to accelerate its growth, Nissan this week unveiled at the Beijing auto show the first production model under its joint venture's own, entry-level Venucia brand, following China's directive for all foreign carmakers to form a separate brand with their local partners to help the country's fledgling industry gain technological know-how.
"We want to be a global carmaker, presenting every single kind of product you can find in the Nissan brand -- from the luxury, with Infiniti, and the entry level with affordable cars under Venucia," Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn told Reuters TV at the show. "We're going to be everywhere."
Dongfeng Nissan, the joint venture's passenger car arm, said it aims to add a new Venucia model every year, targeting annual sales of 300,000 vehicles by 2015, with five products and 250 exclusive dealers.
Nissan also used the Beijing show to roll out its new global compact sedan. In China, the car is named Sylphy and in North America it will serve as the next Sentra model.
In another move that promises to nudge Nissan further ahead of Toyota and Honda Motor Co., Japan's No.2 automaker said last week it would begin producing Infiniti vehicles in China from 2014, putting it on a more level playing field with dominant German brands that build locally and avoid import tariffs of 25 percent.
Toyota and Honda executives have said they have no immediate plans to produce their Lexus and Acura premium vehicles in China.
"Nissan's management has been unsparing and speedy in its investments in emerging markets, particularly China," said Kenji Yoshida, a partner at consultancy PwC. "That's definitely helping them."
Missed trend
At the same time, Toyota and Honda have seen their market share slip in the past four years as competition intensifies in the mid-sized sedan segment where their core Camry and Accord models had driven sales.
Honda's sales in China fell for the first time in 2011, although part of that was due to a supply shortage resulting from Japan's earthquake and tsunami in March.
Toyota and Honda also missed the trend towards affordable compact cars as consumers sought better fuel economy. Gasoline prices in China have soared about 60 percent over the last three years, to more than 8 yuan ($1.27) per liter.
Both automakers are looking to fight back.
"We were a bit thin in the compact segment," Honda CEO Takanobu Ito conceded. "Our first priority is to add more compact models and increase our sales volumes," he told reporters in Beijing.
Honda on Monday announced plans for a new factory that would boost its output capacity in China by roughly a third to 1.01 million cars a year by 2014.
Toyota, for its part, unveiled a design-oriented compact concept model, called the "Toyota Qin", aimed at attracting young buyers. It has said it aims to roughly double its Chinese sales to 1.6-1.8 million vehicles by 2015.
Nissan, meanwhile, is aiming to boost its annual output capacity in China by two-thirds to 2 million vehicles by the end of 2015, and its market share to 10 percent from 7.4 percent.
Like Honda, Toyota acknowledged that its recent growth in China has been wanting, especially considering its top-three standing in global sales.
"In the United States and Japan, we are very successful, but we are only number five (among foreign car makers) in China," said Dong Changzheng, a top executive at Toyota's Chinese subsidiary.
"At the same time, we're not targeting an expansion in sales volumes as much as a leadership position in vehicle technology," he told reporters on Tuesday.
Hybrid technology
Under a new local marketing campaign that started last month, Toyota has been promoting the advantages of hybrid technology, in which it has a big lead globally but which has failed to catch on in China due to its hefty price premium over conventional gasoline cars.
At the auto show, Toyota also debuted a China-only hybrid concept car, called "Yundong Shuangqing", that will be sold from 2015 with a hybrid system developed primarily at its new Chinese R&D centre.
"Gasoline prices are rising so the real cost of hybrid cars for the customer should come down," Dong said, adding that localizing hybrid parts should also lower production costs. "We want to help spread hybrids over the next three years."
Toyota said it would also launch a plug-in hybrid car in China this year, moving the plan forward by one year.
Nissan's Ghosn argued, however, that conventional hybrids were at a disadvantage after the Chinese government last week set a target of putting 5 million plug-in hybrids and pure-electric vehicles on the road between now and 2020.
The government says it will provide generous subsidies for those cars as long as they use batteries procured locally. Under the policy, foreign battery makers will only be able to manufacture in a minority-held joint venture, raising concerns over technology transfer.
Nissan, which has made zero-emission leadership a major pillar of its global strategy, has committed to building electric cars in China by 2015, under the Venucia brand. Ghosn said Nissan and its French partner, Renault SA, were prepared to follow any guideline put forward by Beijing.
"Nissan's run will continue," said Credit Suisse auto analyst Kunihiko Shiohara, noting that success in China hinged not just on product-competitiveness but factors such as good relations with the government. "In that respect, Nissan seems much more committed and is in a better position."
Source:reuters

Monday, April 16, 2012

Toyota turns to BMW engines to power European rebound against VW


STOCKHOLM (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp., which was overtaken by Volkswagen Group in global vehicle sales last year, is striking back on the German automaker's home turf.

Toyota is rolling out the Yaris hybrid, Europe's first hybrid subcompact, and the image-boosting GT 86 sports coupe this year in a bid to claw back market share in the region after sales plunged 41 percent since 2007.
Toyota will further bolster its European business by outfitting its vehicles with diesel engines from BMW from 2014.
"It's unacceptable for Toyota to be at this volume level in Europe," Didier Leroy, Toyota's European chief, said in an interview. By cutting management layers to streamline decision-making over the past two years, "we made ourselves much leaner, much more agile. We strongly went for the fighting spirit in everything we do."
That shakeup is likely to pay off this year, with Toyota predicting its first profit in Europe in five years. Market share in the European Union is set to rise to 6.6 percent from 5.7 percent last year, while the VW brand slips to 18.2 percent from 18.5 percent, according to data from IHS Automotive.
By making gains in Europe, Toyota aims to halt VW's march to become the world's biggest automaker, overtaking General Motors Co.
Toyota lost the top spot last year when disruptions caused by the earthquake in Japan and the lingering effects of global recalls in 2009 and 2010 caused the automaker to drop to third as VW leapfrogged Toyota to become number two.
Hybrid Yaris
"The real issue for Toyota is winning back customers," said Jonathon Poskitt, head of European sales forecasting at LMC Automotive in Oxford, England. "Toyota really needs to refocus on the requirements of what are sophisticated European customers that already have a great choice in new vehicles."
The hybrid version of the Yaris, which competes with VW's Polo, is part of the campaign. Toyota's hybrid lineup in Europe currently comprises the UK-built Auris compact hatchback and the Japan-built Prius.
Production on the gasoline-electric Yaris started at Toyota's factory in Valenciennes in northern France earlier this week after an investment of 25 million euros ($33 million).
The hybrid variant of Toyota's European best-seller has a 1.5-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor that gives it fuel economy of 3.5 liters per 100km (81 UK mpg; 67 U.S. mpg) and CO2 emissions of 79 grams per kilometer.
On the other end of the scale is the GT 86, which accelerates to 100 km (62 miles) per hour in as little as 8.2 seconds and sports a low-slung grill and dual exhaust pipes. The aggressive design is meant to challenge VW's Scirocco and the Peugeot RCZ and pep up Toyota's image.
Impressing the neighbors
The brand's current models "haven't seemed to capture the customer's imagination," said Ian Fletcher, an analyst at IHS Automotive in London. The GT86 "might be a car that brings people back into the showroom."
Still, with hybrids lacking widespread acceptance in Europe and Toyota targeting a modest 15,000 GT86 deliveries in the region, the Japanese carmaker will need to do more to reach its goal of selling over one million cars in Europe, Russia, Turkey and Israel, 20 percent more than its 2012 target of 835,000.
Facing tough competition and lacking in-demand technology, Toyota's performance in Europe has declined faster than elsewhere. In 2007, when Toyota's sales reached a record of 9.37 million vehicles, deliveries in Europe accounted for 13 percent of the total. Last year, Europe accounted for 10 percent of Toyota's 7.95 million auto sales globally.
BMW engines
"Toyota's strengths are in hybrid cars, and this has led to strong sales in the United States and markets that are sensitive to increases in gasoline prices," Satoru Takada, a Tokyo-based analyst at Toward the Infinite World Inc.
"Europe is already dominated by the German carmakers, because diesel cars are popular. Eastern Europe is one area where Toyota may be successful, but every company is targeting those markets, so competition there will be tough for Toyota too."
A lift in Europe could come when BMW starts delivering diesel engines to Toyota in two years. Diesel, which is taxed less than gasoline in many European countries, fueled nearly half of the new cars sold in Germany last year.

The Yaris hybrid has the same 1-5-liter gasoline engine as the Auris hybrid but it is 20 percent lighter thanks to a more compact electric motor transaxle inverter and battery pack.
BMW agreed to supply Toyota with diesel engines in Europe as part of a cooperation pact on research into next-generation batteries.
'A bit boring'
Toyota's thrust in Europe comes as VW makes a push in the U.S., where the Japanese company outsold VW five-to-one in 2011. Volkswagen last year opened a $1 billion factory in Tennessee to build as many as 150,000 Passat sedans a year.
Toyota's improved finances in Europe are in stark contrast to some rivals. Ford Motor Co. predicted a loss of as much as $600 million in Europe in 2012. GM lost $747 million in Europe last year and is considering further cost cuts. Even with the improvements, gaining and holding onto customers in VW's home region will remain a challenge.
At the Toyota dealership in Stockholm, Johan Lindgren, a 31-year old biochemist who owns a RAV4 sports-utility vehicle, is keeping his eyes open to replace his 2001 Yaris Verso. "My Toyotas have been very reliable and practical," he said. "The design has improved lately but is still a bit boring. For the next one, I'll consider Toyota and other brands."

Source:blooomberg

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Despite European Woes Volkswagen announces best-ever first quarter sales

Apparently the Jetta and Passat redesigns are working well, because Volkswagen is reporting 1.36 million vehicle deliveries for the first quarter of 2012. That's an increase of more than ten percent over last year, and in March alone, VW delivered a record 536,600 cars.

Wait a minute, aren't things bleak in Europe? Indeed, while Volkswagen managed to eke out a 5 percent increase in European market deliveries, that's mostly thanks to solid sales performance in Germany. Deliveries to the rest of Western Europe drooped by almost four percent. It seems Volkswagen is compensating for this challenging situation by selling the bejeezus out of its vehicles in markets like Russia, China, South America, and the United States.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hyundai's U.S. sales could top 700,000 in 2012


DETROIT (Reuters) -- Hyundai Motor Co. could see U.S. sales top 700,000 vehicles this year despite the Korean automaker's tight vehicle supplies, a top executive said today.


Hyundai Chairman Chung Mong-koo, who is credited with leading a focus on quality at the automaker since he took over in 2000, has capped production capacity globally, so plants will need to squeeze any added output from the current production schedule, said John Krafcik, head of Hyundai's North American operations.
Last year Hyundai sold 645,691 cars and SUVs in the United States, an increase of 20 percent from 2010.
"What (Chung) wants to do is assure we're all focused on quality," Krafcik said. "When he is satisfied that we've achieved this steady state from which we can grow, then we'll have some opportunity" for adding capacity.
Hyundai, which has capped annual global capacity at around 7 million vehicles, has a U.S. plant in Montgomery, Ala. Hyundai affiliate Kia Motors also builds Hyundai cars at its factory in West Point, Georgia.
Hyundai will continue to shift more sales from fleet customers, like car rental companies, to retail customers, Krafcik said.
Fleet sales, which are less profitable, accounted for 10 percent of U.S. sales last year, and Krafcik said the company plans to move that to as low as 5 percent, which could help shift as many as 100,000 sales to retail.
Fleet accounted for as much as 26 percent of the Korean automaker's U.S. sales in 2009.
Krafcik, at an event to show off the new Azera car and redesigned Genesis coupe, said he did not know what Chung's time frame might be for allowing capacity to start rising again.
The Hyundai brand ended the first quarter with a 4.7 percent share of the U.S. new-car market, down from 5.1 percent in 2011. Krafcik believes it is unlikely the company will lose more market share.
Hyundai's current inventory of vehicles is very tight. It started March with 55,000 vehicles at U.S. dealers and sold 70,000 cars that month, Krafcik said. That pattern is playing out again in April. "We are literally selling cars off the transporters."
Krafcik said the weather was unusually warm in the first quarter and higher gasoline prices also drove consumers to dealers looking for more fuel-efficient vehicles. He said some of the better-than-expected first-quarter sales were sales that would normally come later in the year.
While the first quarter's annual sales rate finished at 14.5 million vehicles, Krafcik said Hyundai was not ready to make that its forecast for the full year.
"We don't know if it can hold that pace," he told reporters. "We're thinking more like low-14s.
"We're still seeing a lot of folks waiting to buy, but that waiting now seems to be reaching a point of breakage where they've got to buy. A lot of it depends on jobs and housing still, and unemployment continues to improve, which is great news."
source:reuters