Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday its group net profit in the October-December period rose 3.5 percent from a year earlier to 296.5 billion yen, clearing the way for its profit for the year to March to exceed 1 trillion yen for a second consecutive year.

The nation’s largest automaker’s brisk performance was backed by lower costs and higher global sales.

Toyota raised its global sales projection for fiscal 2004 to 7.29 million, up 70,000 units from November, mainly due to higher success in North America and Japan. But the automaker is doing well everywhere.

“The number of vehicles we sold increased in every region” from a year earlier, Senior Managing Director Takeshi Suzuki told reporters in Tokyo.

Sales in the quarter rose 5.9 percent to 4.64 trillion yen, and operating profit climbed 5.3 percent to 422.9 billion yen.

Toyota cut costs by 40 billion yen, mainly from parts procurement, which more than offset the negative impact of the yen’s appreciation against the dollar, which pushed down operating profit by 10 billion yen.

The positive factors also absorbed a 39 billion yen increase in expenses for research and development and expanded overseas production bases.

For the full year, the company expects to cut only 170 billion yen in costs, compared with the 200 billion yen it initially projected. Suzuki blamed the shortfall on rising materials costs, including steel, but said the impact fell within range of the company’s expectations.

In terms of volume, Toyota’s global sales in the quarter, including sales by minivehicle subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. and truck maker Hino Motors Ltd., totaled 1.84 million vehicles, up 8.2 percent from the previous year.

Domestic sales grew 3.5 percent to 573,000 vehicles, led by the success of the new models, including the Isis minivan and the Mark X luxury sedan.

In North America, the automaker sold 576,000 cars, up 2.6 percent, thanks to the high popularity of the Sion series with younger drivers and Lexus luxury cars.

In calendar 2004, Toyota sold 2.06 million cars in the United States alone, achieving its target of 2 million.

In Europe, the automaker sold 249,000 cars in the quarter, up 14.3 percent, on strong demand for the Corolla compact series. European sales in 2004 came to 916,000 units, marking eight consecutive years of gains.

In fiscal 2003, Toyota posted a net profit of 1.16 trillion yen, becoming the first Japanese firm to top the 1 trillion yen mark.

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