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Toyota Quickens Quest to Unseat GM

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TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. is quickening its quest to unseat ailing rival General Motors Corp. as the world's biggest automaker with reported plans to start manufacturing up to 100,000 Toyota vehicles at a Subaru factory in Indiana.

Word of Toyota's ramped-up production schedule comes just days after money-losing GM said it will close 12 facilities by 2008 in a move that will slash the number of vehicles it is able to build in North America by about 1 million a year.

The combined developments could help the Japanese automaker surpass GM in worldwide production, although it's unclear if that could happen because Detroit-based GM is growing rapidly in Asia.

Toyota expects to produce 8.1 million vehicles this year, while GM expects 9 million, according to Greg Gardner of Harbour Consulting, a manufacturing consulting firm.

Chipping away at GM's lead will also be a new Toyota pickup truck plant scheduled to open next year in San Antonio, Tex., that will add an additional 200,000 vehicles to Toyota's annual capacity. The Japanese company's output will be boosted by another 100,000 vehicles in 2008, when Toyota's new RAV 4 plant comes online in Canada.

Under the latest expansion plans, the world's No. 2 automaker has asked Fuji Heavy Industries, maker of Subaru autos, to start building Toyotas in 2007 at a Lafayette, Ind., factory operated by Fuji's wholly owned subsidiary Subaru of Indiana Automotive, the Asahi newspaper reported Wednesday, without citing sources.

Company representatives were not available for comment Wednesday due to a national holiday in Japan.

There are five to six candidate models for production, the paper said, with the number manufactured annually to gradually increase to 100,000 vehicles. Earlier reports have suggested that Toyota might produce hybrid vehicles at the Fuji plant.

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