TOKYO — Racing to reel in production amid tumbling demand, Japanese carmakers slashed domestic auto output 21.5 percent in the fourth quarter and whacked exports to the United States.
Japan churned out 1,843,557 cars from October through December, down nearly one-fourth from the year before. Total vehicle output, including trucks, slid 17.1 percent to 2,592,786.
The cutbacks came as sales in the United States and Japan approached quarter-century lows at the end of 2008.
Japanese automakers had weathered the economic downturn for most of last year. But the slump hit hard in the last quarter, sending many Japanese car companies into the red.
Production was reined in by all Japanese automakers. But Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp., which have each reversed full-year profit forecasts to expect losses, led the retreat. Nissan's output fell 29.5 percent and Toyota's 22.9 percent.
Honda Motor Co., Daihatsu Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp. fared the best — but still not well. They kept factories humming at a faster rate thanks to demand for fuel-efficient cars.
Honda's domestic plants pushed out 348,813 vehicles in the period, down just 0.2 percent from a year earlier. Daihatsu's output declined 1.6 percent and Suzuki's 9.6 percent.
Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. declined more than 20 percent.
And things are only expected to get worse in the current quarter, ending March 31.
JP Morgan analyst Kohei Takahashi predicts that total domestic output for this period will plunge 40 percent to 1.92 million vehicles. But that should be approaching bottom, he says.
Exports got slammed in the just-ended quarter, falling 18.9 percent to 1,489,458 vehicles. Shipments to all regions fell — except Africa, which posted a modest 0.7 percent increase.
Not surprisingly, exports to the trouble spots of the United States and Europe suffered worst. Exports to the United States fell 27.3 percent and to Europe 16.2 percent.
The number of vehicles sent to North America fell 25.2 percent to 502,682.