Toyota Is Gaining Lost Ground

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Toyota (NYS: TM) suffered through a rough 2011, but everything could be beginning to fall into place for the company. The Japanese car manufacturer, putting behind the disruptions caused by the Thailand floods and earthquake in Japan last year, forecast an upbeat outlook for 2012.

While the forecast is slightly short of analyst expectations, it does seem as though the company is ready to get back on track.

Gear 2: Shifting production units to the West
A strengthening yen is making exporting some vehicles unprofitable for Japanese producers. Toyota estimates that it loses $443 million for each 1 yen rise against the U.S. dollar. The company is considering the expansion of its production units in U.S. and Canada, where its cars have the highest demand and can maximize profits. Peer Honda Motor (NYS: HMC) in January announced its intention to boost production capacity in North America by around 40%.

Toyota is looking to manufacture the Prius hybrid cars from North America, whereas the Lexus RX 350 model might roll out from Canada. The company's cars are popular in America; and with U.S. automobile sales gaining momentum, it's good timing for the company.

Gear 3: Refreshing top performers
The newer version of the Toyota Camry hybrid has been generating very positive reviews. According to Consumer Reports rankings, the car has bagged the top slot in the family sedan category. This car provides technology without missing on the luxury quotient, and has been rated at 38 miles per gallon. Given the total package, the Camry will certainly be a great seller.

In the sport utility vehicle segment, Toyota Highlander topped the magazine's rankings for family SUV. Toyota plans to beef up production of its Highlander at Princeton, Ind., and expects to invest $400 million in the plant.

The company already exports Sienna minivans from its Indiana plant to South Korea. The bilateral free trade deal between the U.S. and South Korea, which will come into effect in March, further opens up opportunities for the automaker. In February, Toyota introduced its new Prius model in South Korea.

Top gear: New environmentally friendly cars
The company stepped on the gas with its Prius C model, the newest offering from the Prius family. This version of the Prius has been designed exclusively for city drives, as the "C" in Prius C stands for city. This fuel-efficient car from Toyota targets the younger generation with its sporty concept and a smaller 1.5-liter engine.

The Foolish bottom line
Toyota expects a rise in sales to a record 9.58 million vehicles this year as most of its factories are back to production.The trend is upbeat and management is positive. The company's plan to roll out 19 fresh models in the U.S. in 2012 should help it gain traction in the country after a difficult 2011. I am watching this one closely. Stay up to speed on the stock by adding it to your watchlist.

At the time this article was published Fool contributor Joyita Chatterjee owns none of the stocks mentioned in the article.Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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