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Reports: Top Japanese Auto Exec in Trouble

Slumping auto sales could cost a leading auto company executive his job.

Media reports Tuesday in Japan and the United States, Asahi Shimbum, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal say the president of Japanese auto-giant Toyota, Katsuaki Watanabe, may step down next year.

Toyota says no decisions have been made.

The media reports say Watanabe would be replaced by Akio Toyoda, 52, grandson of the company's founder.

The reports come just one day after Toyota said it would lose money for the first time in 70 years. And a company spokesman tells Bloomberg news that layoffs at Toyota's U.S, plants cannot be ruled out.

The carmaker has already suspended work at its truck plant in the southern U.S. state of Texas and stopped construction on a hybrid plant in the southern U.S. state of Mississippi.

Meanwhile, South Korea's top two automakers say they have slashed sales forecasts by 12 percent because of the global recession. Hyundai Motors and Kia also say they are implementing "emergency management" and are freezing the salaries of their managers.

Another South Korean car company, Chinese-owned Ssangyong Motors, has told workers it cannot pay them this week due to lagging sales.

Last week, Japanese automaker Honda cut its annual profit forecast by two-thirds.

And now, France says it is ready to support its struggling automakers.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will unveil a new plan next month. Mr. Sarkozy made the announcement during a visit Tuesday to Brazil, saying action was needed to make sure French companies would be capable of building the cars of the future.

The U.S. is already in the process of supporting its ailing auto industry with more than 17 billion dollars in loans to General Motors and Chrysler. By accepting the loans, both companies have agreed to massive restructuring. U.S. automakers say sales are the worst they have seen in decades.

The head of the U.S. auto workers' union has been critical of the deal. United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said Monday in an interview with Fox Business News that lawmakers and the Bush administration are asking workers to sacrifice more than any of the other parties. He also said the union was shut out of discussions about the loan program.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.