Toyota Motor Corp. officially appoints Akio Toyoda as president at its annual shareholders’ meeting today in Toyota City, Japan, part of sweeping changes at the world’s No.1 auto maker as a result of the historic drop in new-vehicle sales.

Toyoda, 53, is the grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda and the first family member in 14 years to oversee the world’s largest auto maker by sales volume. He replaces Katsuaki Watanabe in the president’s role. Watanabe now is vice chairman.

In his exit speech, Watanabe says Toyota expects no recovery soon in global auto industry sales.

“We expect to face continued hardship in our business environment for the near term, despite signs of recovery in some areas,” Watanabe reportedly tells meeting attendees. "We are sorry to have worried our shareholders.”

Watanabe says Toyota’s cost-cutting will be more extreme than originally planned to help the auto maker, which had its first operating loss last year and has seen sales in the profit-rich U.S. fall 39% through May, get back on track.

As reported, Toyota is reshuffling operational groups, which includes establishing a new North American Operations Group, replacing the former The Americas Group, to be headed by Yoshimi Inaba, most recently overseer of a Japanese airport but Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s president in the late 1990s through early this decade.

Inaba also replaces Yukitoshi Funo as director-Toyota Motor North America Inc., the auto maker’s New York-based holding group for its U.S. operations.

Latin America becomes part of the new Middle East, Africa and Latin America Group, of which Funo will be the chief officer. Asia and Oceania regions, which were part of a previous Toyota operational group with the Middle East, now are joined together in one group, also to be overseen by Funo.

A stand alone Europe Operations Group is established by Toyota, as is an Operation Planning and Support Group.

Toyota says the reorganizing hopefully will create “a structure that enables regions to take the initiative, as well as strengthen medium-to-long term planning functions for TMC” and its global subsidiaries. The new group structure aims to “practically implement operations in each region with a more market-oriented approach,” Toyota adds.

The auto maker says some 23 executives have resigned their posts, including Wahei Hirai, Toyota’s global design chief. Hirai will take a role as a senior technical executive. Replacing Hirai is Takeshi Uchiyamada, former executive vice president-product planning. Uchiyamada also takes on the new roles of executive vice president-research and development and becomes chief officer-Toyota’s Product Management Div. Center.

Shoichiro Toyoda, Akio Toyoda’s father, also resigned from the board and has been named an honorary chairman.

Toyota says it now has 86 executives, including one chairman, two vice chairman, five executive vice presidents and 18 new managing officers. Steve St. Angelo, head of Toyota U.S. manufacturing unit and the auto maker’s plant in Georgetown, KY, joins Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., as the other American managing officer for Toyota.

Meanwhile, Toyota officials reportedly tell shareholders they continue to see hybrid-electric technology as a core business and that electric vehicles, due from the auto maker in limited quantities in 2012, are not practical for mass production in the near-term based on current battery technology.