TOKYO - Japan's carmakers predict that they will expand their overseas production more than their exports in 1999.
The predictions follow a weak year for exports. In 1998, Japan's vehicle exports dropped 0.5 percent to 4,528,875, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Asso-ciation said.
The carmakers' forecasts may come true if key markets in North America and Europe are softer this year than last. Already, Japan's exports to other countries in Asia as well as to South America have tumbled because of weak economies in those regions.
Toyota Motor Corp., for example, predicts that its exports in 1999 will drop 2 percent, to 1,430,000. On the other hand, Toyota projects a 5 percent gain in production at its plants outside Japan, to 1,550,000.
Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. also predict fewer shipments from Japan and more output of cars abroad.
On the other hand, Honda Motor Co. Ltd. predicts a 1.9 percent rise in its exports in 1999, to 540,000, even as it boosts overseas output 9.7 percent, to 1,220,000.
Mazda Motor Corp. forecasts that its exports will rise 3.6 percent, to 570,000, and that its overseas production will jump 40.2 percent, to 178,000.
In 1998, Japan's exports were dragged down by falling sales to Asia. Asian-bound vehicle shipments tumbled 56.3 percent, to 264,987, as the Asian financial crisis deflated sales in those markets. The drop followed a 2.2 percent decline in Asia-bound exports in 1997.
Truckmakers turned in the weakest performance in 1998. Exports by Hino Motors Ltd., a Toyota affiliate, dropped 50.7 percent, to 14,292.
Exports, however, rose 2.0 percent at Nissan, 2.7 percent at Mazda, 2.1 percent at Suzuki Motor Co. and 35.7 percent at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru cars.
Exports in December fell 2.5 percent, to 388,369.