TOKYO - Several of Japan's major automakers slashed production in March, but sharply increased their exports to offset weak sales at home.
Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. cut their March output by 15 percent from a year earlier, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp. dialed back by 22 percent. Mazda Motor Corp. trimmed its output 3.7 percent.
Only Honda Motor Co. boosted production in March from a year earlier, by 5.8 percent.
Exports, meanwhile, jumped almost 18 percent at Nissan, and 10.1 percent to 11.8 percent for the other carmakers. Strong exports to Europe and Oceania offset continuing declines in shipments to Asia.
Honda, however, raised shipments to North America by 28.3 percent, and Mazda raised exports to North America 13 percent.
With the production cuts, Toyota's exports in March accounted for 36.5 percent of its total output in the month. Mitsubishi exported 55 percent of its production.
Takaki Nakanishi, auto analyst at Merrill Lynch Japan, predicts Japan's auto production will drop 11 percent in the April-June quarter. Output will then pick up marginally in the July-September quarter, to be off only 2 percent from a year earlier, before rebounding into positive territory in the last three months of 1998.
But he acknowledged that his prediction is 'somewhat optimistic,' since it assumes steady sales. In fact, sales in early April are off from a weak month a year earlier. Honda Motor Co. President Nobuhiko Kawamoto questioned if the government's new pump-priming measures will be enough to jump-start Japan's moribund economy.
'The economy won't recover very quickly,' he said. 'The reasons for the recession are very complicated and complex, so one approach won't lead to recovery.'
Despite the sharp production cuts at home, meanwhile, Toyota said its North American output increased 19 percent in March over a year earlier:
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc., which produces the Corolla and will start building the Solara coupe soon, was up 86.2 percent for the month and 63.3 percent for the year to date.
Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky Inc., where the Camry, Avalon and Sienna are built, increased 8.9 percent for the month and 4.5 percent for the quarter.
New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., Toyota's Fremont, Calif., joint venture with General Motors, which makes the Toyota Corolla and Tacoma pickup, was up 12.4 percent in March and 0.4 percent for the year to date.
National Editor James R. Crate in Detroit contributed to this report