January 1, 2014 4:19 am JST

Japan's auto association chief sees 2014 as turning point for growth

Akio Toyoda

NAGOYA -- Carmakers will play a key role in the nation's economic recovery by spurring consumers to replace more of their 75 million vehicles with newer ones, according to Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association Chairman Akio Toyoda.

     "We want (2014) to be the turning point for the recovering Japanese economy, which will grow continuously year after year like a tree putting on rings," Toyoda, who is also president of Toyota Motor, told reporters.

     Toyoda did temper this optimism, stressing that while "Japan's economic recovery is palpable," it is still "at the starting line."

     Despite planned cuts to vehicle excise taxes, the consumption tax hike taking effect in April will effectively result in a higher levy on all automobiles, leading to an unavoidable dip in new-vehicle sales, he noted. Car companies will push for expanded tax incentives to promote the environmentally friendly offerings they are developing.

     Toyoda foresees the North American market maintaining momentum, although it "would be hard to paint a picture of rapid growth for emerging markets like that seen in the past."

     "We will carefully consider what kind of cars people want, taking into account not only sales volume, but also air pollution and accident prevention," he said, emphasizing the need to accommodate the characteristics of various markets.

     Toyoda also spoke enthusiastically of working to make such "next-generation mobility" technologies as self-driving and fuel-cell vehicles a reality in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.