TOYOTA, Japan (AP) — President Akio Toyoda promised shareholders a revived Toyota despite the production disruptions from the earthquake and tsunami that decimated northeastern Japan on March 11, and first offered his prayers for those killed.
The disaster dominated Friday's annual shareholders at Toyota Motor Corp. headquarters in the town named after the world's biggest automaker.
It started with a solemn moment of silence for those killed and missing, now estimated at more than 23,000 people. The first question from investors was about what the company was doing in response to the destruction.
But the overall mood was supportive and upbeat, periodically interrupted by applause, unlike shareholder meetings in recent years when Toyota officials were on the defensive for massive global recalls caused by quality lapses and profit drops that followed the financial crisis.
The quake and tsunami damaged key parts suppliers in northeastern Japan, and vehicle production for some models is still not back to normal, three months later.
That is crimping Toyota sales, even for popular models, just at a time when it was starting to recover from a two-year recall fiasco, especially by boosting growth in emerging markets.
One shareholder got up to grumble about how he was still waiting for his Prius order, but called himself "a Toyota fan," and expressed confidence Toyota was on a comeback.
Toyoda said his company was working hard so that vehicle production, which had stopped nationwide after the 9.0-magnitude quake, is expected to be back at pre-disaster levels by July, both in Japan and overseas.
He said he visited suppliers and dealers in northeastern Japan and was deeply moved by the struggle of people to deal with widespread damage.
Although it will take time for the Tohoku area to return to normal, Toyota will do its best to contribute to the regional economy by keeping production there and providing jobs.
"I ask shareholders for their understanding," Toyoda said with a bow, which was welcomed with enthusiastic clapping.
Despite the gradual recovery over the past year, Toyota is still expecting its profit to dive 31 percent on year to 280 billion yen ($3.5 billion) for the fiscal year through March 2012, hammered by the parts shortages.
Toyota may lose its spot as the world's top-selling automaker to General Motors Co. this year because of the disaster, although executives have played down the importance of that loss.
Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid and the Camry sedan, expects to sell 7.24 million vehicles for the fiscal year through March 2012, down from 7.31 million vehicles in the previous year.
Toyoda said the company was doing its utmost in the face of a soaring yen and intensifying global competition as well as damage from the quake.
"We want to be a company that gets chosen by customers, and we want them to smile," he said.
Yuri Kageyama can be reached at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama