Friday, December 26, 2008

Japan auto production marks worst drop since 1967

TOKYO (AP) - Japan's production of cars, trucks and buses marked its steepest drop in at least four decades in November, an industry group said Thursday, as the fallout from the U.S. slowdown crimped auto demand.

Vehicle production in Japan, home to Toyota Motor Corp. and other major automakers, plunged 20.4 percent in November compared to the same month a year ago to 854,171 vehicles, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said.

That marked the second straight month of on-year declines and the percentage slide was the biggest since the group began compiling such data in 1967, it said.

Production of passenger cars in Japan decreased 20.3 percent in November from the previous year to 737,797 vehicles, while production of trucks here declined 20.9 percent for the month to 106,170.

Japanese automakers, which also include Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and several other manufacturers, have been hammered by the dwindling of demand in the U.S., the world's biggest auto market.

But signs are growing the fallout is so serious domestic sales are getting drastically damaged as well.

Auto executives have expressed dismay at the fall in Japanese sales, which have worsened in the last two months.

Japanese plants are being idled to reduce production, and thousands of assembly line workers have lost their jobs in recent weeks.

"Even if we are doing our utmost, the global crisis is coming at us like a tidal wave,'' Teruyuki Minoura, president of Daihatsu Motor Co., a Toyota affiliate, told reporters Thursday.

Earlier this month, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association said it expected demand in Japan will dive next year to its lowest in about three decades.

Sales of new autos are expected to stand at 4.86 million in 2009, down 4.9 percent from what it's projecting for this year at 5.11 million, the group said.

New vehicle sales in Japan have never dipped below the 5 million mark since 1980.

They reached 7.78 million in 1990, during this nation's heyday "bubble'' economy.

Vehicle sales in Japan stood at about 5.02 million in 1980, and at 4.31 million in 1975.

Toyota Executive Vice President Akio Toyoda apologized for the public concern that Japan's top automaker has set off by forecasting its first operating loss in seven decades for the fiscal year ending March 2009.

"The overall world economy is said to be facing its worst crisis in 100 years,'' he told reporters.

But Toyoda brushed off questions about a recent Japanese media report that he may be promoted to president soon, and instead insisted on talking about a new car he said he hoped would appeal to women.

"This car is for housewives, moms and women. In hard times like these, it's best if women are full of life and happiness,'' he said.-AP

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