Toyota said sales last year soared 22.6 per cent to 9.75 million vehicles, while Nissan saw a 5.8 per cent on-year rise to 4.94 million units.Honda, Japan’s number-three automaker, recorded sales of 3.81 million vehicles, up from 3.09 million a year earlier, as strong US and Asian demand boosted its results.
The latest figures confirmed that Toyota regained the global sales crown lost in 2011 to US-based GM, as the Japanese quake-tsunami disaster hammered the firm’s sales and production.
Robust Asian sales and a pick-up in North America helped drive sales for Japan’s big three, offsetting weak demand in Europe and the effects of Tokyo’s diplomatic row with Beijing, which sparked a Chinese consumer boycott of Japanese goods in the latter part of the year.
Nissan said it posted record sales in the United States last year, underscoring the pick-up in demand in a key vehicle market.
However, Nissan, part-owned by France’s Renault, warned in November that its net profit for the fiscal year through March would be down 20 per cent to 320 billion yen ($3.46 billion), citing its heavy exposure to the Chinese market.
Less affected by the dispute, Toyota hiked its profit forecast to 780 billion yen for the same period, up from 760 billion yen, although it trimmed its annual sales forecast to 21.3 trillion yen.
A strong yen and uncertainty in China and Europe dented Japan’s automakers, with Toyota largely crediting its better profit outlook to cost-cutting, including a decrease in labour, research and development expenses.
Honda has blamed the ongoing territorial row — and a strong yen — for a 20 per cent cut to its annual profit forecast.
The long-standing row flared again in September when Tokyo nationalised an East China Sea island chain that is also claimed by Beijing, setting off huge demonstrations across China and the consumer boycott.
Japanese factories and businesses across China temporarily closed or scaled back operations over fears of being targeted by angry mobs.
The tension prompted Nissan’s chief executive Carlos Ghosn to warn that the firm would think twice about making new investments. It has several production plants in China with a new factory in the northeastern city of Dalian planned for 2014.
On the production side, Toyota said it made 9.9 million vehicles last year, up 26.1 per cent, while Nissan posted a 5.5 per cent production increase to 4.88 million units in 2012.
Japanese firms have also struggled with the high yen which hurts manufacturers by making their products less competitive overseas and shrinking repatriated foreign income, hitting efforts to cement a recovery after the 2011 natural disasters.
The yen hit record highs around 75 against the dollar in late 2011 and remained strong through most of last year until Japan’s new conservative government swept to power last month, vowing to fix the nation’s long-suffering economy.
Its promises to pressure the Bank of Japan for aggressive easing has weighed on the yen, sending it on steep dive in recent months.
Toyota shares were down 0.57 per cent to 4,315 yen and Honda was off 0.58 per cent at 3,400 yen while Nissan bucked a fall in the broader market on Monday by closing up 2.4 per cent at 895 yen.
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