TOKYO - Buoyed by exports to the booming U.S. market and a modest recovery at home, Japan's vehicle production last year edged up 2.5 percent to just over 10 million units, generally considered to be industry's breakeven point.
The gain, the first year-to-year increase in three years, brought industry output to 10,144,847 units, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association reported. Output also is expected to remain above 10 million units this year, the industry group said.
Except for 660cc minivehicles, production rose in every segment in 2000. In particular, output of regular-sized passenger cars and light trucks rose, a signal that the nation's economy may be picking up.
Production rose at Toyota Motor Corp., Isuzu Motors Ltd., Honda Motor Co., Hino Motors Ltd., Daihatsu Motor Co. and Nissan Diesel Motor Co. But output fell at Nissan Motor Co., Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Mazda Motor Corp., Suzuki Motor Corp. and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru cars.
Among the largest five automakers, Toyota production surged 10 percent over a year earlier, led by an 11 percent jump in passenger-car output to 3 million units. Nissan was the industry's biggest loser, cutting overall output by 4.4 percent and passenger-car production by 5.6 percent.
Exports for the year edged up 1 percent to 4.45 million, with declining exports to Europe, Central America and Africa barely offsetting stronger shipments to the United States, South America, Asia and Oceania. Shipments to the United States jumped 7.2 percent from 1999 to 1,669,047, the fourth consecutive year-to-year increase. The U.S. market absorbed 37.5 percent of Japan's exports last year, up from 35.3 percent in 1999.
Exports to Europe slid 14.5 percent, reflecting a major shift of production there from Japan.
Honda's Europe-bound shipments, for example, plunged 38 percent last year as it transferred production of CR-V sport-utilities to England last June. Similarly, Nissan shipments to Europe fell by more than a third as the company switched output of the Almera to its plant in Sunderland, England.
In addition, stricter emission regulations in Europe helped trim Japan's exports there. Mazda said its shipments to Europe slid 49 percent in December because some of its vehicles could not meet Europe's new emissions rules.
Toyota was an exception, boosting its exports to Europe by 9.6 percent last year as it benefited from strong demand for the Yaris subcompact.
Toyota shipped more than 200,000 Yarises to the region last year. But those shipments will decline once scheduled production of the car begins in France.
Asia-bound shipments jumped 41.4 percent in 2000 to 410,590, the second straight year of gain, thanks in large part to the region's economic recovery.