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Akio Returns; Can Toyota Regain Its Mojo?

2010 Toyota Prius
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2010 Toyota Prius

When Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda walked on to the stage before his company unveiled a new line of Prius hybrid models, it was a reminder of where Toyota has been in the last year.

And a glimpse of where he'd like to take the company, notably back towards strong growth in the U.S.

Last year, the recall of millions of carslinked to unintended acceleration caused Toyota to suspend production for a month and limited sales. They were up fractionally when every other major automaker posted strong gains in the U.S. Toyota hopes to turn the page in 2011 with Mr. Toyoda saying his company has learned from its mistakes.

But Toyota's problems go beyond the recalls.

Its quality and reliability, while still strong, are slipping. And its competitors have closed the gap.

Even more worrisome is the product line-up which many view as relatively boring. Meanwhile Toyota's rivals, especially Ford and Hyundai, are rolling out new models that are generating buzz.

So Toyota hopes to play to its strength, Prius.

The gas/electric hybrid still dominates that market and Toyota hopes an expanded line of Prius models will extend sales.

With gas prices rising, I think the new Prius models should do well.

It's the established leader in hybrids, and I don't see that changing soon.

But will Toyota in 2011 get back on track as Akio Toyoda hopes? Yes and no.

Detroit Auto Show 2011 - A CNBC Special Report
Detroit Auto Show 2011 - A CNBC Special Report

Yes, I expect Toyota to rebound a bit after 2010. But no, it won't be a full comeback. That will take longer. The market has shifted and Toyota now has to adjust.

The Prius expansion is a start.

Now comes the hard part of rolling out new models that bring back the momentum.

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