Auto production dropped 10.5 percent to 5.1 million in the first half of 1998 from a year ago, marking the first half-year decline since 1996, the Japan Auto Manufacturers Association said Monday.

JAMA predicted that it will be difficult to achieve a production level of 10 million units this year, which would be the first drop below the level since 1979.

During the asset-inflated bubble economy of the early 1990s, combined output at the 11 automakers posted a record high of 13.48 million units. In 1995, it fell to 10.19 million. Since then, domestic output has been hovering at slightly above 10 million units.

By manufacturer, Honda’s output in the half-year remained at third place, obtained in fiscal 1997, surpassing Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Production at Honda reached 630,424 units, JAMA said.

In a further reflection of low domestic demand, the output of cars, trucks and buses in June dipped 10 percent, to 879,211 units, from the same month last year, the ninth straight monthly drop, JAMA said.

Output of trucks in June fell by as much as 20.4 percent, to 170,792 units, due to fewer public works projects this year.

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