TOKYO (AP) _ Toyota Motor Corp.'s profits surged 53 percent in the latest fiscal year as Japan's biggest automaker boosted sales in the United States while increasing its leading share of the market at home.

Toyota's group profits totaled 944.6 billion yen ($8.1 billion) for the fiscal year ended March 31, up from 615.8 billion yen a year ago, the company said Thursday.

Sales rose 6 percent to 16.05 trillion yen ($138 billion) from 15.1 trillion yen a year earlier.

Both were record highs for the manufacturer for the third-straight year.

Cost reduction efforts added 300 billion yen ($2.6 billion) to profits, while a favorable exchange rate added 60 billion yen ($515 million), Toyota said.

Analysts say the future for Toyota, based in Toyota city, depends on how the overall auto market holds up, especially in North America, where it makes more than half its profits.

Fears are growing U.S. demand will taper off because automakers have been piling up incentives to keep sales going.

``Things look good so far up close for Toyota,'' said Hitoshi Onishi, auto analyst at Cosmo Securities Co. in Tokyo. ``But it's hard to predict when a backlash might begin in North American sales.''

Toyota's domestic vehicle production totaled 3.51 million in fiscal 2002, up 4.5 percent from a year ago, while overseas production jumped 20.8 percent to 2.22 million vehicles from 1.83 million.

Around the world, Toyota sold 6.25 million vehicles, up 8 percent from 5.78 million a year ago. For fiscal 2003, Toyota is forecasting selling 6.26 million vehicles.

In the just-ended year, sales in North America reached 1.98 million vehicles, up by 202,000 vehicles from a year ago, on strong demand for the Corolla compact, Highlander sport utility vehicle and Lexus ES300 luxury model.

Toyota also dominated in Japan at a difficult time for its troubled economy, controlling 42.3 percent of the market and selling 1.724 million vehicles, managing to inch up 0.2 percent from 1.720 million a year ago.

This fiscal year is off to a good start for Toyota with sales booming in North America with its seventh consecutive record-setting April. Sales of the all-new 4Runner sport utility vehicle were up 36 percent from last year.

Toyota models are selling well in Japan as well, with the Wish minivan and Corolla at the No. 1 and No. 2 best-selling spots for April.

Earlier this week, Toyota came in first in offering the highest overall initial quality in its cars, according to an annual report by J.D. Power and Associates, a key study on auto quality.

Toyota president Fujio Cho credited cost-cutting and strong overseas sales for the results.

``We achieved our best-ever results by creating products that respond to the needs of our customers around the world,'' he said.