Toyota Profit Zooms Another 7.3 Percent Higher

Toyota (TM), hot on the heels of General Motors (GM) to become the world's No. 1 automaker, reported a 7.3 percent jump in quarterly profit Tuesday on booming sales in North America and Europe that offset sluggish demand in Japan.

Toyota Motor Corp. recorded group net profit of 426.8 billion yen ($3.6 billion) in the three months ended Dec. 31, up from 397.6 billion yen the same period the previous year.

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Quarterly sales climbed a solid 15.2 percent to 6.15 trillion yen ($51.2 billion) from 5.33 trillion yen a year ago, as the remodeled RAV 4 sport utility vehicle and Camry mid-sized sedan sold briskly in North America, and demand was strong for the Yaris compact in Europe, Toyota said in a release.

"Toyota's numbers are super, super strong," said Koji Endo, auto analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston Securities in Tokyo. "To be honest, it's hard to find anything bad at this point."

Toyota did not comment on where it might build its next U.S. factory to keep up with strong demand there. American newspapers have reported that Chattanooga, Tenn., and Marion, Ark., are among the finalists.

Net profit and sales reached a record for any quarter, said Senior Managing Director Takeshi Suzuki. "We believe our company wide efforts have contributed to these results," he said in a release.

Toyota, with its reputation for reliable, fuel-efficient cars, has gotten a big boost lately from the rise in oil prices. It also is a leader in producing hybrids, which use electricity and gasoline.

Toyota has long beaten struggling General Motors Corp. in profitability, but it still trails GM in annual global vehicle production.

Last month, Toyota said global vehicle production topped 9 million in 2006, at 9.018 million vehicles, marking the fifth year straight of growth. GM its group automakers produced 9.18 million vehicles worldwide in 2006 — about 162,000 vehicles more than its Japanese rival.

Toyota, which also makes the Lexus luxury line, surpassed DaimlerChrysler AG (DCX) as the No. 3 auto seller in the U.S. for the first time in 2006, according to data from automakers. Ford Motor Co. remains No. 2 in the U.S.

Toyota kept its vehicle sales forecast for the fiscal year ending March 31 unchanged at 8.47 million vehicles. During the October-December quarter, it sold 2.16 million vehicles worldwide, up 8.9 percent from a year ago.

Vehicle production, meanwhile, rose 9 percent to 2.09 million units in the quarter.

Toyota said a weak yen, which boosts the value of overseas earnings, added 30 billion yen ($250 million) to the third quarter, while cost reductions efforts contributed another 20 billion yen ($167 million).

It also held steady its forecasts for the full fiscal year through March, projecting earnings of 1.55 trillion yen ($12.9 billion) on 23.2 trillion yen ($193 billion) sales.

Toyota shares, which have climbed a third in value over the past year, closed up 1.8 percent in Tokyo at 7,960 yen ($66).

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