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Toyota in high gear as it forecasts record profit

TOKYO--Toyota has shifted into high gear, with the world's largest automaker tipping a record annual profit after more than doubling its nine-month earnings to US$15 billion thanks to the yen's sharp decline and surging sedan sales.

The buoyant results underscore a recovery not only for the Camry and Corolla maker but also for rival Japanese auto giants including Nissan and Honda.

The trio have been big winners over the past year as a sharp drop in the yen inflated exporters' repatriated profits, further boosted by improved overseas demand in key markets including the United States and China.

Sales in China fell off a cliff in late 2012 and into last year as a Tokyo-Beijing diplomatic row sparked a consumer boycott of Japanese brands in the world's biggest vehicle market. Relations remain tense, but Japanese manufacturers have reported sales are returning to pre-spat levels.

On Tuesday, Toyota said it earned 1.52 trillion yen (US$15 billion) between April and December on sales of 19.12 trillion yen — propelled by a five-fold jump in third-quarter earnings.

It also boosted its fiscal year to March profit forecast to a record 1.90 trillion yen.

The automaker has ramped up drive emerging markets while key U.S. demand has also been on the upswing.

“In addition to the positive impact of the weaker yen, our operating income increased due to marketing efforts that boosted vehicle sales, as well as cost-reduction activities,” Toyota managing officer Takuo Sasaki told reporters in Tokyo.

He added that there “is a sense that the European market is bottoming out” as sales improve in the U.S. and China.

Toyota last month said it had kept the title of world's biggest automaker with 2013 sales of 9.98 million vehicles, outpacing Germany's Volkswagen and General Motors, and said it expects this year to become the first to break the 10 million vehicle sales barrier.

On Friday, Volkswagen, which had been sitting in number-three spot, said it sold 9.73 million vehicles last year, ahead of U.S. giant GM's 9.71 million.

Toyota broke GM's decades-long reign as world's top automaker in 2008 but lost the crown three years later as Japan's quake-tsunami disaster hammered production and disrupted the supply chains of the nation's automakers.

Toyota also took a heavy blow from a series of mass recalls affecting millions of cars that damaged its once-stellar reputation for quality and safety and led to U.S. congressional hearings in 2010.

Last week, Honda said its nine-month net profit surged almost 40 percent to 403.60 billion yen, thanks to brisk global sales and a weaker yen.

Nissan reports its financial results next week.

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Visitors inspect cars on display at a Toyota gallery in Tokyo on Tuesday, Feb. 4. Toyota Motor Corp. reported a more than fivefold jump in its quarterly profit Tuesday and raised its earnings forecast, crediting a weak yen and strong sales.

(AP)

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