TOKYO - Reversing a 3.4 percent downturn in 2001, Japan's vehicle production last year rose 4.9 percent to 10.26 million units as stronger exports more than offset weaker sales at home.
Exports surged 12.8 percent over the previous year to 4.7 million, while home-market sales, as reported earlier, declined 2 percent to 5.8 million. Production also jumped 12.9 percent in December as exports rose 23.9 percent over the year-ago month.
Analysts say the export-driven spike in production may be the last as Japanese automakers continue to shift output overseas.
Most makers are forecasting higher sales in the United States, but they expect rising production there to claim an increasing share of their sales. Companies are quick to add that results will depend on whether war breaks out in the Middle East.
"I think production could tail off to 9.8 million to 9.9 million units this year" as North American exports erode, said Shigeharu Kimishima, an analyst at Mitsubishi Securities Co. in Tokyo.