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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, August 5, 2006

Toyota rides high in good-mileage cars

By Yuri Kageyama
Associated Press

TOKYO Toyota chalked up a 39 percent jump in profit for its first fiscal quarter as soaring gas prices led drivers around the world to snatch up the Japanese automaker's models known for their good mileage.

Toyota Motor Corp., which also benefited from a weaker yen and cost-cutting efforts, reported yesterday a $3.2 billion profit in the April-June quarter, a sharp rise from $2.3 billion in the same period the previous year.

Quarterly sales surged 13 percent to $49 billion from 43.4 billion a year earlier, according to the company, which is based in Toyota city, central Japan.

Toyota, the world's second biggest automaker after General Motors Corp., is not the only Japanese automaker to record recent robust results, in contrast to the plight of GM and other U.S. automakers, whose gas-guzzling image is hurting sales.

Some analysts say Toyota is on track to overtake GM as the world's No. 1 automaker in vehicle production and sales in a few years.

Toyota sold 2.09 million vehicles around the world in the latest quarter, up from 1.95 million in the same period a year earlier. Sales were especially robust in North America where it sold 747,300 vehicles, up more than 16 percent from 641,200 sold in the first quarter of last year.

Toyota models previously seen as rather small like the Corolla and niche offerings like the Prius hybrid which switches between a gas engine and electric motor to deliver better mileage are gaining new appeal in the U.S., where retail gasoline prices have risen to above $3 per gallon.

In quarterly revenue, Toyota reported a 14 percent increase in Japan, 19 percent rise in North America and 24 percent surge in Europe. While revenue inched down 4 percent in Asia, it leaped 25 percent for other regions during the three months.

Also contributing to Toyota's bottom line were a weak yen, which added $871 million to operating profit, and $174 million in cost cuts, the company said in a statement.

Toyota is likely to continue to get a big lift from the growing global interest in fuel efficiency. Toyota has recently begun selling a hybrid version of the Camry sedan in the U.S. The Camry has been the best-selling car in North America for eight of the last nine years.

Japanese rival Honda Motor Co., which reported a 29.6 percent increase in profit to $1.2 billion for the quarter through June, has also been boosting its U.S. market share. Honda makes the Civic and Accord, both reputed as delivering solid mileage.

In contrast to Toyota's booming results, U.S. automakers have been struggling. GM, which is shutting plants and sending thousands of workers on early retirement, lost $3.4 billion in the latest quarter, while Ford lost $254 million