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Toyota Canada's Yoichi Tomihara

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Toyota Canada Inc. chief executive officer Yoichi Tomihara is departing after leading the company to a record sales performance that was followed by three straight years of sales declines.

Mr. Tomihara, who will take on a senior executive posting for Toyota in Europe, will be replaced in January by Seiji Ichii, who joined Toyota in 1981 and has held senior positions with several of the auto maker's divisions, including five years at Toyota Canada in the early 1990s.

The departing CEO took the helm of Toyota Canada in January, 2007 and the company posted record sales of 224,158 vehicles in 2008, which boosted it into second place in the Canadian market for the first time. But the recession sent sales skidding in 2009 and a recall crisis dented the company's performance in 2010 as the overall market recovered.

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Sales have fallen again this year amid a shortage of vehicles caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which led to parts shortages that depleted inventories of Toyota vehicles in Canada and around the world and severe production cuts at the auto maker's North American plants. Flooding in Thailand also led to brief production cuts at those plants.

As of the end of November, Toyota Canada's sales sat at 148,554, down 8 per cent from deliveries in the same period in 2010.

Nonetheless, during Mr. Tomihara's five-year tenure, Toyota Canada posted its top four sales years and hit a market share record in 2009 when it captured 14 per cent of overall Canadian sales. He also brought the company's youth-oriented Scion brand to Canada.

Mr. Ichii's previous positions at Toyota included stints at the company's North American manufacturing arm, Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc., in Erlanger, Ky., and in purchasing planning at Toyota's head office in Japan.

He is an economics graduate of Kyoto University and holds a master's degree in international relations from the International University of Japan. He will join the Canadian sales arm from Toyota's operations in Africa, where he has been stationed since January, 2008.

Mr. Ichii will arrive as Toyota unveils several new or redesigned vehicles for the 2012 and 2013 model years, including a redesigned Camry in the mid-sized car segment and the Prius V, a crossover version of the hybrid Prius sedan.

Mr. Tomihara's departure is the latest in a year of change at the top among the Canadian units of several major auto makers.

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The occupants of the corner offices of BMW Canada Inc., Honda Canada Inc., Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. and Mercedes-Benz Canada Inc. have all changed this year.

Canadian presidents typically remain in the job three to five years before being rotated to other global posts or returning to head office and taking up other duties.

The exception to that is former BMW Canada president Manfred Braunl, who left that job in June after just six months and is no longer employed by BMW AG.

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About the Author
Auto and Steel Industry Reporter

Greg Keenan has covered the automotive and steel industries for The Globe and Mail since 1995. He also writes about broader manufacturing trends. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of the University of Western Ontario School of Journalism. More

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