In the beginning of in 1950's, Toyota was just a little nobody in the bombed out post war Japan. Sold a grand total of 250 cars (no joke) for the first post war car model, the SA. Nissan (Datsun) and Mitsubishi dominated what's left of the Japanese automobile marke. Toyota was near bankrupcy by 1952, was a major take over target (kind of like Honda in the early 1990's, but Toyota was in deeper).
By some miracle, it survived. I think it was the Crown model sedan that saved the company. (Interestingly, "Camry", in Japanese means Crown). Anyway, after that close call, Toyota was determined never to be on the take over list again, and has ever since kept a large chunk of liquid fund read to fight out any possible take over.
1 or 2 billion dollars for that is fine. But even with the purchase of Daihatsu, Hino Motor and a chunk of Yamaha, $800 million for production increase in 1999, the cash reserve kept on growing in size. Now at over $20 billion, I can joke that maybe Toyota doesn't know how to spend it.
What is exact plan Toyota has for that money, I don't really know. But I can see some possibility and the effects it has.
(1) Initiative: By have enough money for a take over against any automaker means all of the competitors must divert resources to plan against a take over, and react to Toyota's moves.
(2) Acqusition: Toyota rencently have made major efforts towards a hipper image. Toyota maybe wishing it had bought BMW earlier, and may do so next time it is offered. It maybe other companies, but that's all guessing.
(3) New brand: recent news say that Toyota might establish a third brand. Centered around the Genesis group, it will comprise the new cars such as the Matrix, possibly RSC and the upcoming Supra successor (4000GT with 400 hp). Toyota has denied it, but I wouldn't put it past them.
(4) Non-automotive expansion: Toyota group now comprise of 425 subsidaries. In part to prepare the future "digital cars", Toyota is backing Japan's 2nd largest telecom company. Being the largest investor, BusinessWeek say Toyota may put invest over $1 billion a year into it. Other expansion maybe into other market sectors, as recent alliance between Toyota and SONY. Online expansion, creating Japan's Yahoo/Amazon equivalent (called Gazoo). Who knows? I can't possibly track all the things Toyota has in Japan. Looking at the 425 subsidiaries and 130+ affiliates, it feels almost like Toyota is Japan.
Anyone interested in Gazoo, feel free to go to http://gazoo.com/