Toyota confirms Akio Toyoda as new president

TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp confirmed Akio Toyoda as its new president on Tuesday, promoting the grandson of the company’s founder to guide the world’s No.1 automaker through the worst downturn in its history.

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Toyoda, 53, and a new management team that includes four new executive vice presidents and eight new board members, will need to hit the ground running with the company facing tanking car sales and a record loss for the year to March.

The industry slump, fueled by tight credit, volatile fuel prices and rising jobless numbers, has already helped drive U.S. rivals General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.

“We expect to face continued hardship in our business environment for the near term, despite signs of recovery in some areas,” outgoing President Katsuaki Watanabe told Toyota’s annual shareholders’ meeting, adding that the company would try to achieve deeper cost cuts than planned.

“We are sorry to have worried our shareholders,” he said.

At a board meeting following the shareholders’ meeting, Watanabe was confirmed as vice chairman along with the other management changes including the promotion of Toyoda.

Toyoda had long been seen as a candidate to head the company founded by his grandfather in 1937 as he rose through the ranks at nearly twice the speed as his predecessor.

Supporting Toyoda will be five vice presidents while two key company elders, Honorary Chairman Shoichiro Toyoda -- Akio’s father -- and Senior Adviser Hiroshi Okuda, resigned from the board. Eight new officials joined the 29-member board.

In a move seen as an attempt to balance the newly promoted with seasoned veterans, Toyota brought back Yoshimi Inaba, an outspoken heavyweight who left as executive vice president in 2007 to head an airport that Toyota helped build.

Inaba returns as a director and will take charge of Toyota’s North American operations, the company’s largest and, until recently most profitable market. Inaba, fluent in English, headed Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., the California-based sales arm, from 1999 to 2003.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, chief engineer of the first-generation Prius, will remain in his role as executive vice president, switching his responsibilities to R&D and product management from manufacturing. Uchiyamada was among those who pushed for Toyota’s new Mississippi plant, which is now on hold as the automaker struggles to fill unused capacity elsewhere.

Senior managing directors Yukitoshi Funo, Atsushi Niimi, Shinichi Sasaki and Yoichiro Ichimaru will be promoted to executive vice president.

Funo, formerly head of operations in the Americas, will be in charge of emerging markets such as China, Latin America and the Middle East.

Niimi will head manufacturing, Sasaki will be responsible for purchasing and quality, and Ichimaru will head Japan sales, administration and finance issues.

Toyoda and his new management team are scheduled to hold a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday.

Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast