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Toyota workers face three-day week

Toyota, the world’s biggest carmaker, is considering plans to put its European workforce on a three-day week, as it forecasts the biggest sales slump for 35 years.

Senior executives at the annual Geneva Motor Show, which opened last week, forecast overall European sales will collapse by 30% this year to 15-million cars and vans. Recovery will take three or four years.

The United Kingdom market, they said, will see just 1.5-million cars sold or 900 000 fewer than the 2.4-million sold just two years ago — a decline of 37.5% and worse than the industry lobby, the SMMT, expects. It has forecast sales of 1.72-million for this year.

Toyota employs 22 000 in Europe, including some 4 500 in Britain, mainly at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire. It is already discussing one option of cutting working hours by 10% with Unite, the main industry union, with a decision due in the next few weeks.

Another more drastic option is to close the plant for three months and give staff five days’ pay as the company slashes output to cope with the collapse in sales and get rid of all stocks. Unite favours voluntary redundancies with payoffs instead.

But Tadashi Arashima, chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, and Thierry Dombreval, chief operating officer, told a handful of reporters that the group would prefer work-sharing to retain staff across Europe for any upturn.

Toyota can build 800 000 cars a year in Europe, with output this year likely to be barely a quarter of that in normal years. But Dombreval said it would be “foolish” to take short-term decisions to close plants needed in the longer term.

“These are assets for the future,” he said. Toyota also launched the latest version of its Prius car at the motor show.

Despite the shrinking car market, Toyota expects to sell 15% more hybrid cars in Europe this year than last year, when it sold 58 000. It hopes to sell 400 000 units of the new Prius a year in 2010. —

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