Toyota Motor Corp. expects to sell 9.7 million vehicles globally next year, down from an earlier forecast of 10.4 million.

That news, announced today by TMC President Katsuaki Watanabe, follows speculation the auto maker would be forced to chop its goal and, in doing so, may fail to surpass General Motors Corp. as the No.1 seller of vehicles worldwide in a calendar year, as had been widely expected to occur in 2008 or 2009.

Toyota already has lowered its 2008 global sales estimate to 9.5 million, slicing 350,000 units from an earlier goal.

“We have been going at top speed up to now,” the Associated Press quotes Watanabe as saying today in Tokyo. “It is time to set more cautious targets.”

The AP reports Toyota left unchanged its North American and Japanese 2009 sales projections of 2.7 million units, flat with 2008’s expected level, and 2.25 million, respectively.

Toyota sees its sales in the Asian region as rising 6% in 2009 to 1.75 million units from an expected 1.65 million in 2008.

Meanwhile, Toyota reportedly will slash its domestic advertising budget by 30% in fiscal 2008, a Japanese news service says, citing Toyota’s total annual ad spending at ¥100 billion ($914.8 million).

To take the edge off the news of the projected drop in sales, Watanabe announces Toyota will push up the introduction date of its Prius plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle, from 2010 to the end of 2009.

Also, he says Toyota will introduce a next-generation electric vehicle in the early part of the next decade.

Toyota rival Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. is targeting its EV introduction for 2010 in the U.S.

In more advanced powertrain news, Toyota says it will begin leasing its next-generation fuel-cell vehicle, FCHV-adv, to the Japanese Ministry of the Environment on Sept. 1, with leases to other Japanese government entities and energy-related companies also planned.

The cost to lease the vehicle is ¥840,000 ($7,684) per month for a 30-month period, Toyota says.