TOKYO -- Global output at Japan's top five automakers grew in February, data showed on Wednesday, as overseas demand for Japanese cars defied weaker consumer spending in the lead-up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The smallest automaker of the five, Mazda Motor Corp., logged the biggest rise of 16.2 percent to 88,947 vehicles. Its overseas output jumped 78 percent on the back of models like the 323 -- or Familia in Japan -- and the Tribute sport utility vehicle.
Honda Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp., ranked second and fourth in Japan, also posted double-digit growth in overseas output to boost global production by 7.7 percent and 3.5 percent, respectively.
But production in the United States and U.S.-bound exports fell at some makers as softer-than-expected demand in the world's biggest car market pushed up inventory levels over the past few months.
Analysts said production could fall still further unless car makers use heavy incentives to sell off less popular vehicles, especially at a time when demand has taken a hit from the war in Iraq.
"Showroom traffic in the United States is down this month, and that doesn't bode well for sales in April and May," said an auto analyst in Tokyo.
Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's top automaker, said its exports fell 4.3 percent to 142,397 vehicles in February as it shipped fewer cars to North America and Europe. Its global output rose 1.3 percent to 473,508 units.
U.S. production at third-ranked Nissan Motor Co. fell 14 percent to 30,743 vehicles, although it should turn up again once the new plant in Canton, Mississippi, goes online this spring.
Nissan's strong global output owed much of its rise to a 21.5 percent jump in domestic production, supported by the launch of the Teana luxury sedan and other models. Its global output rose 13.7 percent to 248,975 units.
In contrast, domestic production fell for Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi Motors, partly reflecting weak consumer spending at home.
Honda's domestic production fell 13 percent to 103,209 vehicles, mainly because most of its factory lines had been operational for one or two extra days in the year-earlier month to build the hot-selling Fit subcompact and other models.