TOKYO - Japan's new-vehicle exports turned lower for the first time in 15 months in March, slipping 0.1 percent from a year earlier as demand weakened in the United States.
Shipments to the U.S. market plunged 20.7 percent, the second consecutive monthly decline. Four of Japan's Big 5 major automakers - Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. - reported lower exports, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp. did not provide data. The company cited a spin-off of its truck division in January that skewed year-earlier comparisons.
The drop in exports more than outweighed an earlier reported 6.7 percent gain in March sales. As a result, Japanese production in March declined 1.1 percent to 943,775 units, the first drop in nine months.
In unit terms, the drop in shipments to the United States was almost, but not quite, offset by higher exports to Europe and Asia.
Japan's exports to Europe surged 33.3 percent, with all four major automakers again showing an increase. Asia-bound shipments also remained brisk with a 21.1 percent jump, boosted mainly by China's booming demand that represented 28 percent of total Asian shipments. Exports to China jumped 31.3 percent.
In North American-bound shipments, three of the four major automakers posted double-digit declines. The biggest loser was Mazda, which reported a 37.5 percent slide. Toyota slashed its shipments to that region by 24.3 percent.
Honda curbed exports to North America by 16.3 percent, as increased exports of the CR-V from England to the U.S. market cut shipments of the Japan-made SUV from Japan to America. Nissan's exports to the United States slipped 2.6 percent.
In contrast, all four major automakers increased Europe-bound exports, with three of them posting double-digit gains. Honda shipments soared 214.4 percent from a year earlier, reflecting a shift to Japan-made Accords from local production of the previous model.
Honda also increased its shipments of Jazz compacts, known as the Fit in Japan, to Europe.
Mazda's exports to Europe jumped 53.2 percent on strong demand for the 6 sedan. Toyota firmed up with a 27.0 percent jump on strong demand for the Corolla and RAV4. The Frontier pickup and X-Trail helped give Nissan a 7.8 percent boost.
Meanwhile, production increased 2.4 percent at Toyota and 5.0 percent at Nissan. Output dropped 22.0 percent at Honda, 3.5 percent at Mazda and 1.3 percent at Mitsubishi.
While car production slipped 1.7 percent, truck output rose 1.9 percent, gaining momentum from a 7.4 percent rise in medium- and heavy-duty truck production. That reflects growing demand to beat strict emissions regulations to be introduced in October.