Toyota Prius orders mount; shake-up looms

TOKYO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp, under pressure ahead of a scheduled management shake-up, has won 75,000 orders for its new Prius hybrid, the Nikkei business daily said, promising a fierce battle for Honda Motor Co’s rival Insight hybrid.

Toyota, facing a potential $8.6 billion operating loss in the year to next March, has previously announced plans to appoint the founder’s grandson to head the company in June and make many other management changes including a new head for its loss making U.S. operations.

The Financial Times highlighted an upcoming change in Toyota’s management, noting that the personnel line-up announced last month replaced 40 percent of top managers.

Toyota’s shares gained 2 percent, outperforming Honda’s 1.3 percent rise and just ahead of the benchmark Nikkei share average’s 1.7 percent.

Honda’s new Insight hybrid, launched in early February in Japan, has outpaced the company’s sales forecast with sales of nearly 20,000 units in the first three months.

A Toyota spokeswoman could not confirm the Nikkei report, saying the automaker had not compiled dealers’ orders ahead of a scheduled launch on Monday.

Toyota has said it would bring back a former senior executive, Yoshimi Inaba, to lead its U.S. operations after he had left the company in 2007 to run an airport in Nagoya, near Toyota’s headquarters.

His appointment comes as Toyota has struggled to make the most of a North American unit it established a few years ago to bring sales and manufacturing operations there closer together.

The new management, including family scion Akio Toyoda as president, will be appointed officially at the annual shareholders’ meeting on June 23.

Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim in TOKYO, David Holmes in LONDON