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Japanese Auto Exports Grow

January 21, 1998

TOKYO (AP) _ Helped by a weak yen, exports at Japan’s five major automakers rose in 1997 from the previous year, though domestic sales were sluggish due to a slow economy.

Honda Motor Co. led the pack, with exports rising 47.9 percent to 548,794 vehicles in 1997.

Honda’s performance was followed by increases of 21.1 percent to 551,629 at Mitsubishi Motors Corp., 19.2 percent to 541,351 at Mazda Motor Corp., 18.9 percent to 691,975 at Nissan Motor Co., and 17 percent to 1,494,308 at Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest automaker.

The companies released the figures Wednesday.

The climb in exports by Japan’s automakers comes amid a weak yen, which makes Japanese goods cheaper overseas, but which makes foreign products more expensive in Japan.

It also comes as Japan’s burgeoning trade surplus threatens to cause renewed friction with the United States.

Strong sales of its CR-V sports utility vehicle in North America and Europe were behind the rise in Honda’s exports, said company spokesman Hideki Hirate.

Domestic production at the five automakers also rose during the year. But sales were hurt by the April 1 sales tax increase and consumer worries about the weak economy.

Of the five automakers, only Honda and Mazda managed to post higher domestic sales for the year, rising 6.7 percent and 0.7 percent respectively from the previous year.

Overseas production at the automakers was mostly higher, rising 11 percent at Mitsubishi, 3.1 percent at Toyota, 1.1 percent at Nissan, and 0.3 percent at Honda. It fell 12.9 percent at Mazda, in which Ford Motor Co. owns a controlling one-third stake.

The major automakers’ monthly reports are watched closely by analysts as an economic indicator because their production represents a large portion of Japan’s industrial output.

For the month of December alone, all the companies reported rises in exports, while all but Honda saw sales fall during the month.

Only Mazda and Honda enjoyed rises in domestic production. Toyota and Nissan increased overseas production during the month, while Mitsubishi and Honda saw declines. Mazda didn’t have an overseas production breakdown for the month.

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