TOKYO - Japan's new-vehicle exports in April rose 2.1 percent from a year earlier, supported by brisk European demand and stable U.S. shipments.
The gain, to 398,700, reflected a 14.4 percent rise in exports to Europe, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. Exports to the United States inched up 0.4 percent from a high level.
Japan's production, meanwhile, edged down 0.4 percent in April.
A 6.0-percent drop in Japanese sales in April, as reported earlier, more than offset the export gain.
Shipments to Asia increased 5.7 percent, the lowest increase since April 2002. That was led by a modest 6.5 percent rise in China-bound shipments, also the lowest since February 2002.
While automakers don't attribute the slowdown in growth to the aftermath of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, the association saw it as a sign of the shaky outlook for Asian demand due to the epidemic.
Four major automakers showed mixed results in their exports to North America. While Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. posted a double-digit gain, Honda Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. showed a double-digit decline.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. did not provide data on its exports to specific markets, citing a spinoff of its truck division.
Toyota's exports to North America rose 13.9 percent on strong demand for the 4Runner and GX 470 SUVs. Nissan's exports leaped by 33.6 percent, cashing in on the Infiniti FX45 SUV and G35, and the Nissan 350Z.
Meanwhile, Honda's exports to North America plummeted 26.3 percent as exports of the CR-V from England to the U.S. market increased and shipments of the Japanese-made SUV to that country eroded.
Mazda's exports to North America plunged 34.2 percent as demand for the Protege slackened before the launch of a revamped version this year or early next year.
In exports to Europe, three of the four major automakers gained. Honda was the biggest gainer with a 119.1 percent leap, shifting to the Japanese-made Accord from local production of the predecessor. The Jazz compact, known as the Fit in Japan, also contributed to the jump. Nissan got support from the X-Trail SUV for a 51.7 percent surge.
On the other hand, Toyota curbed its shipments to Europe by 13.8 percent by boosting local production of the Yaris and cutting shipments of the Japanese-built compact.
Meanwhile, production increased 6.2 percent at Toyota and 3.4 percent at Nissan.
Output contracted 26.2 percent at Honda, 14.8 percent at Mitsubishi and 1.1 percent at Mazda.
Honda's shrinkage was led by gloomy sales in Japan in April, which plunged more than 30 percent and the first drop in exports in seven months.