Toyota may reshuffle top management, shed jobs in the US and UK

After predicting its first annual loss in 70 years (See: Toyota makes first annual loss in seven decades), Japan's No.1 and the world's No.2 automaker Toyota is set to shed jobs, right from top management to blue-collar workers. According to sources, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe may step down next year, with executive vice president Akio Toyoda considered a frontrunner for the post.

Also at the same time, Toyota's US unit, which has not shed workers in its 24 years of existence, may cut its payroll, hurt by the worst US auto market slowdown since the early 1990s.

Additionally, Toyota could cut up to 800 jobs in the UK, or 15 per cent of its workforce, adding to the 40,000 positions expected to be shed from the UK car industry's 200,000 total over the next three years. It not made any of its permanent staff redundant, but it is understood to have already cut an unspecified number of temporary workers.

Jim Wiseman, vice president of external affairs for Toyota's North American production unit reportedly said job cuts couldn't be ruled out as sales continue to fall. Analysts said if the auto market does not witness a rebound by second half of next year, Toyota probably might have to consider layoffs. Toyota has promised to do all it could to retain permanent British workers, but has reportedly not ruled out the possibility of redundancies.

Akio Toyoda is a grandson of Kiichiro Toyoda, who launched Toyota in 1937. According to people familiar with the matter, a group of influential Toyota elders is leaning towards the selection of the 52-year-old Akio as Watanabe's replacement.

Since the late 1960s, Toyota's founding family had been steering the company. Founder Kiichiro's cousin, Eiji Toyoda, served as president from 1967 to 1982. Shoichiro Toyoda, Kiichiro's eldest son, was president from 1982 to 1992, and his brother, Tatsuro Toyoda, served that role from 1992 to 1995.

But that changed in 1995, when Tatsuro suffered a stroke and had to be replaced. In part because there were no suitable senior family members available, Toyota chose Hiroshi Okuda, a charismatic executive with a sales background and the first outsider to run the company in almost three decades.

After Okuda had managed to turn things around when the company was in dire straits, the conventional line of thinking of having a Toyoda at the helm underwent a sea change. In fact, Okuda, who still sits on the Toyota board, is considered to be opposed to Akio's elevation as president.