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Despite the sluggish global economy, the nation’s top three automakers ran up record-high profits while No. 4 and No. 5 returned to profitability with better-than-expected performances in 2001, according to business results announced as of Monday.

All five attributed the favorable results to strenuous cost-cutting efforts and the weakened yen.

Nissan Motor Co., the third-largest automaker, posted a 46.9 percent gain in consolidated pretax profits to 414.7 billion yen for the business year to March 31.

Group net profits at the Japanese-French automaker came to a record-high 372.3 billion yen, up 12.4 percent, while operating profits hit 489.2 billion yen, a jump of 68.5 percent. Consolidated sales came to 6.196 trillion yen, up 1.8 percent.

Nissan was the only one of the top five to lose sales volume in both the domestic and overseas markets, but this was apparently offset by cost-cutting efforts and the completion of its restructuring plan a year ahead of schedule.

Toyota Motor Corp., the nation’s top automaker, logged a record 615.8 billion yen in consolidated net profits, up 30.7 percent from the previous year. While Toyota’s domestic car sales declined, its total global sales volume rose thanks to higher sales in the United States, Europe and other overseas markets.

Honda Motor Co., the second-largest by market share, enjoyed record-breaking profits and sales, benefiting from strong demand for its products in the Japanese and North American markets and the yen’s weakness against the dollar and the euro.

Honda was the only one of the top five that managed to increase sales in the domestic market.

The fourth-largest automaker, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., returned to profitability after spending two years in the red, turning around with 11.3 billion yen in group net profits, compared with 278.1 billion yen in net losses the year before.

The turnaround at MMC, being guided by DaimlerChrysler AG, reflected progress with its restructuring plan, which featured workforce reductions, the closure of an assembly plant and other cost-cutting efforts.

No. 5 automaker Mazda Motor Corp. also returned to the black, posting consolidated net profits of 8.8 billion yen, compared with group net losses of 155.2 billion yen the year before.

All companies besides Toyota, which does not reveal its consolidated profits and sales targets for the next year, expect to improve further in the current business year, which began April 1.

While they will continue cost-reduction efforts, all five are targeting a rise in sales volume both in the domestic and overseas markets by launching new products, they said.

Yoshihide Munekuni, the new chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, told reporters last week that while corporate and personal spending in Japan continue to be flat, he expects to see the economy improve in the latter half of the year.

He added that overall domestic car sales will probably reach JAMA’s target of 5.86 million units this business year, which is an increase of 0.1 percent from 2001.

“New models launched by automakers so far this year have been popular, and I expect that the ones that are coming later this year will follow that trend,” Munekuni said.

Munekuni said he expects car exports to rise later this year due to the recovery of some overseas markets, including Asia.

Suzuki sales up 4.2%

Suzuki Motor Corp. said Monday it saw an increase in profits and logged record-high consolidated sales for 2001, thanks to cost-cutting measures and the weakened yen.

For the year to March 31, Suzuki’s consolidated sales came to 1.66 trillion yen, up 4.2 percent. Its group pretax profits came to 52.3 billion yen, up 2.5 percent, while consolidated net profits came to 22.4 billion yen, up 10.6 percent.

Its group operating profits came to 58.5 billion yen, up 15.2 percent.

For this year, Suzuki expects group sales will reach 1.76 trillion yen, up 5.5 percent, with consolidated net profits of 30 billion yen, up 34 percent.

Suzuki forecasts group pretax profits to increase 30 percent and group operating profits to grow 16.3 percent, hitting 68 billion yen.

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