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Nissan Motor Co. said Monday it posted a record group net profit of 512.3 billion yen for fiscal 2004, up 1.7 percent from the previous year, and the fifth consecutive record annual profit.

Nissan’s operating profit came to a record 861.2 billion yen, up 4.4 percent, while sales jumped 15.4 percent to 8.576 trillion yen.

The strong performance was attributed to brisk sales worldwide, which marked a record 3.38 million vehicles in the year to March 31, up 10.8 percent from a year earlier.

“Last year, Nissan rose to the challenge and delivered a record performance despite many head winds” such as unfavorable exchange rates, higher commodity prices and higher interest rates, chief executive Carlos Ghosn told a news conference in Tokyo.

The increase in sales contributed 284 billion yen to the operating profit, while reductions in purchasing costs of materials and parts generated 131 billion yen.

These factors more than offset the unfavorable exchange rate which sucked 78 billion yen from the operating profit, the company said.

In terms of sales volume, Nissan sold 848,000 vehicles in Japan in the reporting year, up 1.4 percent from a year earlier, thanks to brisk sales of the Fuga luxury sedan and the March compact.

In the United States, sales jumped 18.4 percent to 1.013 million vehicles, exceeding the 1 million mark for the first time due to strong demand for the Titan pickup truck and the Altima sedan.

In Europe, sales stood at 544,000 vehicles, up 0.3 percent, while in other regions including China, Mexico and Canada, sales surged 19.5 percent to 983,000 units.

For the current fiscal year, Nissan forecasts its global sales to grow 6.8 percent to 3.618 million vehicles by introducing five new models in Japan, five in Europe and nine in other regions. No new models are planned for North America, the firm said.

In its “Nissan Value Up” three-year business plan announced Monday, the company said it aims to sell 4.2 million vehicles worldwide by the end of fiscal 2008 by launching 28 new models.

Nissan also aims to maintain the top operating profit margin among global automakers, which currently stands at 10 percent, and 20 percent average return on invested capital.

Nissan said it abolished the division of two domestic sales channels starting Monday — the Blue Stage which focuses on expensive models and the Red Stage mainly selling cheaper models — to avoid confusion among customers.

Nissan Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga said a customer survey showed that most people find having two different channels inconvenient. To increase customer satisfaction, the company will have all of its 2,600 sales outlets sell the entire Nissan lineup, Shiga said.

Ghosn stressed that the company is poised to achieve its goal of selling 3.597 million units worldwide in a one-year period through the end of September — the target announced under its previous three-year business plan announced in May 2002.

Nissan sold 1.809 million vehicles worldwide in the six months to the end of March. Industry watchers are keeping a close eye on whether the automaker will be able to achieve the target by the end of September.

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