TOKYO - Japanese carmakers expect home-market sales this year to grow faster than their export sales.
The forecasts assume that the sluggish Japanese market will begin to recover in the second half of the year, and that the U.S. market will ease from its record-setting levels of 1999, thus removing one of the key props from exports.
The forecasts by individual carmakers are largely in line with the predictions of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, which foresees domestic light-vehicle sales rising 2 percent this year to 6 million units.
In contrast, car and truck exports in 2000 'are projected to decline modestly,' JAMA Chairman Yoshifumi Tsuji said.
Nonetheless, the home-market sales projections are ambitious, particularly for certain companies. For example, Honda Motor Co. predicts its Japan-market sales will rise 8.6 percent this year to 760,000, after a gain of about 1.4 percent to roughly 700,000 in 1999.
'These are very optimistic numbers,' said Stephen Usher, Tokyo auto analyst for Jardine Fleming Securities (Asia) Ltd. He said Honda's only major new model will be the all-new Odyssey, launched in mid-December in Japan, until a new Civic debuts in Japan this summer.
Elsewhere, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. forecasts that its Japan sales will rise 4.9 percent to 620,000, after slipping 1.7 percent to about 591,000 in 1999. Toyota Motor Corp. predicts its home-market sales will rise 8 percent to more than 1.8 million, after dropping 2 percent to about 1.67 million in 1999.
Mazda Motor Corp. sees its Japan sales rising 5 percent to about 335,000 in 2000, after holding flat in 1999 at about 319,000.
JAMA did not offer a forecast for vehicle production in Japan in 2000. Output in 1999 fell 1.8 percent to about 9.87 million units, the first time in 20 years that production slipped below 10 million units.
JAMA projects that sales of minivehicles, cars and trucks with engines smaller than 660cc, will total about 1.75 million in 2000, down about 6.4 percent from a projected 1.87 million in 1999. The Japan Mini Vehicles Association, on the other hand, predicts minivehicle sales of about 1.8 million in 2000.
Meanwhile, the Japan Automobile Importers Association predicts imports into Japan will rise 4.7 percent this year to 290,000. It said imports in 1999 edged up 0.4 percent to 277,000 after declines in 1998 and 1997.