TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. rode truck sales to a record North American quarterly operating profit, putting the carmaker on track for record full-year global earnings.
North America was the sole bright spot in the October-December fiscal third quarter, with sales increases there offsetting declines in every other major market.
Toyota benefited from a shift to bigger, higher-margin vehicles amid plunging gasoline prices. Sales in Toyota's biggest market rose 7.2 percent from a year earlier to 712,000 vehicles in the quarter, as regional operating profit surged 37 percent to a record for any quarter of ¥167.9 billion ($1.4 billion).
"It was driven primarily by the Highlander and Tacoma," Managing Officer Takuo Sasaki said. "The U.S. remains very strong."
Global net income rose 14 percent to $5.00 billion in the quarter, while operating profit jumped 27 percent to $6.36 billion. Revenue rose 8.9 percent to $59.78 billion, even as sales fell 2.3 percent to 2.3 million vehicles.
Toyota and other Japanese automakers have benefited over the past year from the yen's retreat against other currencies. The quarter's operating profit was lifted by a $1.21 billion windfall gain from the weakening yen, plus cost cutting.
"While they benefited from forex movement, they have been able to retain these gains and add to them, unlike various peers, by remaining focused on cost reduction and quality of sales over volume," Kurt Sanger, an auto analyst at Deutsche Securities Japan, wrote in a report. "North America has the automotive margin back to pre-crisis levels thanks to disciplined sales approach and focused delivery at the factory level."
Toyota, which kept its title as the world's largest automaker in 2014 by selling a record 10.23 million vehicles, has surpassed pre-financial-crisis sales levels. But the Japanese giant forecast sales to slip 1 percent to 10.15 million in 2015 due to slowing demand in Japan and emerging markets. It would be the first sales drop since 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami derailed Japanese automakers' production and sales.
Sasaki said the yen's faster-than-expected weakening was a key reason the company lifted, for the second time this year, its forecast for the current fiscal year ending March 31. It predicts records for revenue, operating profit and net profit.