48_Toyota

Toyota hasn't escaped the current economic cataclysm. Like its peers, it's predicting sharply lower sales for 2009. But with GM on the ropes, it's now the world's top-producing automaker.

Its lean production methods and continuous-improvement strategy have been mimicked in industries from mining to retail to health care. And then there's its highest-profile innovation these days: the early embrace of fuel efficiency. By betting on green, with the introduction of the Prius seven years ago, it lapped domestic automakers who put chits on cheap oil and big cars. This year will see a new Prius (many built at a plant in Mississippi) and two more hybrids; a new Lexus hybrid is reportedly in the wings. Toyota also has high hopes for its iQ ultracompact car (now available only in Japan and Europe), which seats four. But other design innovations may yet lead to the compact holy grail—a teensy car that can seat seven. Watch your back, Mini Cooper!

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