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Report: Toyota chief Watanabe expected to quit in 2009
DECEMBER 23, 2008 - 3:22 PM ET

Toyota Motor Corp. may be getting a new leader in 2009.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe is expected to quit sometime in 2009.

Toyota officials in the United States, contacted by Automotive News, would not comment on the report.

Toyota is projecting a rare operating loss for the fiscal year, which ends in March. But the expected operating loss would not be the reason for any change in management, according to the report.

Watanabe would assume the mostly ceremonial role of Toyota chairman and take over for Fujio Cho, who is suffering from health problems, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Automakers around the world face a tough business environment, caught in a spreading financial crisis.

Toyota cut its group forecast to a first-ever annual operating loss of 150 billion yen ($1.7 billion) for the fiscal year to end in March, after shocking financial markets last month by slashing its group operating profit forecast by 1 trillion yen to 600 billion yen. Last year, Toyota made a record profit of 2.27 trillion yen.

"This is very, very, very bad," said Koichi Ogawa, chief portfolio manager at Daiwa SB Investments. "There's a chance they could fall into the red in the next business year as well.

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