TOKYO - Sales growth in China and other emerging markets offset a decline in North America to help push Toyota's profit up 7.5 percent for its third fiscal quarter.
The maker of Prius gas-electric hybrids, Camry sedans, Corolla subcompacts and Lexus luxury cars has been flourishing as soaring gas prices boost the appeal of the Prius and other smaller models reputed for fuel efficiency.
Toyota Motor Corp., which narrowly trailed U.S. automaker General Motors Corp. for the top spot in 2007 global vehicle sales, said Tuesday it sold 2.281 million vehicles in the October-December quarter, up 5.8 percent from a year ago.
Its sales growth in emerging markets, including China, Africa and South America, as well as in Europe, more than made up for declines in North America, where sales fell 8,000 vehicles from a year earlier to 756,000 vehicles.
"We posted our highest ever quarterly results for the third quarter in both revenues and profits, despite the severe business environment," said Toyota Senior Managing Director Takeshi Suzuki.
Toyota's group profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31 rose to 458.6 billion yen ($4.29 billion) from 426.7 billion yen the same period the previous year. Quarterly sales rose 9.2 percent to 6.710 trillion yen ($62.79 billion).
Robust sales also made up for the 20 billion yen ($187.1 million) the carmaker lost from the effects of an unfavorable exchange rate. Toyota said the dollar cost about 113 yen during the third fiscal quarter, down from 118 yen in the same period a year ago.
A weak dollar erodes the value of overseas earnings for Japanese companies like Toyota, and the dollar's further decline in recent months possibly puts more pressure on Toyota in the year ahead.
But the company reaffirmed its sales forecast for the year ending March 31 unchanged at 8.93 million vehicles, up 4.8 percent from the previous year.
Toyota also kept its profit projection of 1.7 trillion yen ($15.91 billion) for the fiscal year on 25.5 trillion yen ($238.61 billion) in sales.
Worries are growing about U.S. sales amid a credit crunch, volatile stock markets and drooping consumer spending. Like other Japanese automakers, Toyota appears to be making up with robust growth in new markets, including China, Africa and Asia outside Japan.
So far, Japanese automakers have been faring better financially than their American counterparts. Japanese models with their reputation for good mileage have gotten a lift from soaring gas prices.
Profit at Nissan Motor Co. for the fiscal third quarter jumped 26.6 percent jump to 132.22 billion yen ($1.24 billion) as sales surged 18.2 percent.
Honda Motor Co., Japan's second-biggest automaker, reported a 38.1 percent jump in profit for the October-December quarter to 200 billion yen ($1.87 billion).
On Tuesday, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. reported a profit of 21.7 billion yen ($203 million) for the April-December period in contrast to a loss of 11.8 billion yen for the same period the previous year. Nine-month sales rose 26 percent to 1.95 trillion yen ($18.25 billion). It didn't report third-quarter results.
On the other hand, Ford Motor Co. lost $2.8 billion in the October-December quarter, and offered buyouts to its 54,000 U.S. hourly workers, made salary cuts and trimmed production.
General Motors, which reports earnings next week, barely retained its crown as the world's No. 1 automaker last year, selling some 3,000 more vehicles than Toyota did.
Toyota sold 9.366 million vehicles in 2007 globally, while Detroit-based GM sold 9,369,524 vehicles. GM has been the world's top seller for 77 years.
For the first nine months of its fiscal year, Toyota's profit surged 16.4 percent to 1.401 trillion yen ($13.11 billion). Sales for the period climbed 11.9 percent to 19.722 trillion yen ($184.54 billion).
Toyota shares slid 2 percent to 5,780 yen ($54) in Tokyo on Tuesday. Earnings were announced after trading ended.