Toyota and Nissan today posted record sales for 2012 as the Japanese car giants benefited from a pick-up in demand, with Toyota recapturing the world’s biggest automaker crown from General Motors.

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 the sales for Japan’s big three, offsetting a 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 sales

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 ($3.52 billion), citing its heavy exposure to the Chinese market.

Profit forecast

Less affected by the dispute, Toyota hiked its profit forecast to ¥780 billion for the same period, up from ¥760 billion, although it trimmed its annual sales forecast to ¥21.3 trillion.

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.

Territorial row

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.

(This article was published on January 28, 2013)
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