TOKYO (AP) _ Toyota Motor Corp. is considering manufacturing luxury cars at plants in the United States beginning as early as 2000, Japan's leading business daily reported Tuesday.

Toyota may make a luxury sport-utility, introduced early this month in Japan as the Harrier, in a plant in Indiana, the newspaper Nihon Keizai said. Toyota's offices were closed Tuesday for the New Year's holiday and company officials were not immediately available for comment.

Toyota has been steadily increasing production in the United States, partly as a way to ease criticism over Japan's huge trade surplus. Auto exports account for the biggest share of the surplus and have been growing recently as manufacturers send more cars overseas to make up for slowing sales at home.

Toyota is building a dlrs 700 million plant south of Princeton, Indiana, and already plans to produce about 100,000 T100 pickup trucks annually when it opens in the fall of 1998. The plant will employ about 1,300 workers.

Toyota would have to build a second production line at the plant to make the sport-utility vehicle, the paper said.

It said Japan's largest automaker may also produce a luxury sedan in the United States, although it didn't say where.

Currently, Toyota makes its Lexus line of luxury cars and its sports-utility vehicles in Japan.