Toyota, often considered the industry leader when it comes to earning profits, has forecast an annual loss of $8.6 billion for the financial year ending March 2010, as it weathers one of the worst sales slumps in decades. As this is a forecast the final figure could easily change, however, the carmaker also announced today a staggering $6.9 billion loss for the January-March fourth quarter.

This means that Toyota lost more money in the past quarter than GM, which posted a more modest $6 billion loss, while Ford, with a loss of $1.4 billion, is looking much more stable in comparison – something that would have been almost impossible to believe a year ago.

Commenting on the results, outgoing Toyota chief Katsuaki Watanabe said a significant deterioration in vehicle sales, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, were the main causes of the severe decline in profits. The carmaker’s global sales fell by 1.34 million to 7.57 million units during the year, and the next 12 months is expected to see sales decline another 14%.

Also, adding to the poor result was the yen's rapid surge against a weakening dollar.

In order to cut costs as much as possible, the carmaker may have to delay launching new models, lashing research and development costs and extricating itself from non-essential activities, such as motorsport.