TOKYO - Japan's vehicle production dropped 5.7 percent in February for the fourth straight month of decline, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said.
The February drop, to 879,877 units, all but guarantees that Japan's auto output in the fiscal year ending March 31 slid below 10 million for its worst showing in two decades.
The last time output fell short of 10 million was in the 12 months ended in March 1979, when Japanese carmakers built 8.94 million units. Japan's recession, plus soft exports, have combined to slash production.
The 10-million level has been viewed widely as the industry's break-even point. Falling below that level is expected to trigger layoffs.
Indeed, that is already happening. Several truckmakers have announced plans to cut staffing. Other companies have cut back sharply on plans to hire new workers, thus allowing attrition to trim head count.
In addition, the lower production figures could help justify the plant closures and layoffs that are expected to be recommended for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. by Carlos Ghosn. The Renault SA cost-cutter will become Nissan's COO in the wake of Renault's purchase of a controlling stake in Nissan.
Among major carmakers in February, only two posted higher production numbers. Both gains resulted from output of minivehicles with engines smaller than 660cc.
Daihatsu Motor Co.'s output rose 24.9 percent to 60,735 units, while Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s production of Subaru models rose 21.0 percent to 44,086 units.
Overall minivehicle production jumped 19.8 percent.
Several new, inexpensive mini models introduced last October have been selling well despite the Japanese market's general weakness.
Elsewhere, though, truckmakers Hino Motors Ltd. and Nissan Diesel Motor Co. saw their output drop 44.6 percent and 32.1 percent, respectively, in February.