TOKYO - Soaring exports kept Japan's auto plants humming in May.
Vehicle production was 890,611, up 15.8 percent from a year earlier, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. It was the third straight month of rising output.
Domestic sales fell 11 percent in May. But exports more than offset that weakness, surging 30 percent.
In May, sales in Japan were only 48 percent of the country's production, down from 49 percent in April and 68 percent in all of 1996.
Exports have pushed to the fore this year because of the weak yen and a softening Japanese market.
Through May, production by all Japanese auto companies was 4,721,200, up 11.3 percent over last year. Output rose for every company in the first five months of 1997.
Among major makers, Mazda Motor Corp.'s output rose 35.8 percent in May, on continued strong demand for its Demio miniwagon. Mazda's increase was the largest on a percentage basis. Next was Honda Motor Co.'s gain of 29.5 percent.
Only two companies posted lower production in May than they did last year, and both were truckmakers. Nissan Diesel Motor Co.'s output slipped 1.3 percent, while Hino Motors Ltd.'s output eased 0.8 percent.