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Toyota: Change at the Top Looks Closer

More news on the possible replacement of Toyota chief Katsuaki Watanabe with Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder. Today’s Nikkei newspaper reckons Toyoda’s appointment could be decided as early as Monday, a national holiday in Japan. According to the report, after gaining shareholder approval next June, Toyoda will take over at the top while Watanabe will become Vice-Chairman. Former President Fujio Cho will stay on as Chairman.

The latest development follows a period of silence in the Japanese press since the Asahi newspaper said much the same on Dec. 23. At the time, a source close to Toyota told BusinessWeek the move was on the cards, although the carmaker insisted, and still insists, no decision has been made. A spokesman adds that, usually, executive changes are announced in April and rubber-stamped two months later at the annual shareholder meeting.

While reports in the Nikkei aren’t always on the mark, the fact that it is weighing in now suggests the move is likely. The paper, Japan’s biggest business daily, accurately forecast the company’s recent earnings write down. It predicted that Toyota would make its first operating loss in since 1938 on December 19. Three days later, Toyota said it would rack up operating losses of $1.7 billion in the 12 months through March. Just six weeks earlier, Toyota had lowered a previous forecast and its operating earnings would slip 73% to $6.1 billion.

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