Toyota doubles down on slumping Latin America markets

Mon Nov 7, 2016 2:53pm EST
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By Brad Haynes and Daniel Flynn

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T is gearing up for Brazil's battered auto market to return to growth in 2017, after a four-year crisis halved overall vehicle sales, the automaker's top executive in Latin America said.

Yet Steve St. Angelo - who has tripled Toyota's market share in Brazil during the crisis - says he is losing sleep over one scenario: what if the market comes back too quickly?

"If that volume comes back, how do we keep our market share?" said St. Angelo, head of Toyota in South and Central America and the Caribbean, in an interview ahead of this week's Sao Paulo Auto Show.

"We don't have the production facilities. Are the dealers prepared for that kind of volume? The short answer is: I worry about it," he added. "This is what keeps me up at night."

Toyota sold nearly 148,000 cars and light trucks in Brazil in the first ten months of 2016, up 1 percent from a year earlier, moving to fifth place in the Brazil market from eighth just a few years ago.

St. Angelo, who credits meticulous customer service for keeping loyal customers during the downturn, has the enviable problem of contemplating a third shift at Toyota's plants in Brazil, while rivals are using less than half of their capacity.

Toyota has avoided the widespread layoffs that cut 25,000 jobs from the Brazilian auto industry in two years.

Across Latin America, the Japanese automaker has become a outlier under St. Angelo, doubling down while other carmakers pulled back amid economic crises in Brazil, Argentina and even Venezuela.   Continued...

Steve St. Angelo, Toyota Latin America Chief Executive Officer poses for Reuters during an interview in Sao Paulo, Brazil, November 5, 2016. REUTERS/Rodrigo Paiva