A Toyota Rav4 on a sales lot Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

AUTO ROUNDUP: Toyota Net Profit Jumps to $16 Billion

Volvo Group registers enormous profit jump after cutting costs. ... Honda recalls 2.2 million more cars related to Takata airbag crisis.

TOKYO — Toyota announced Friday that its nine-month net profit jumped nearly 10% to 1.9 trillion yen ($16.24 billion), despite falling sales in most regions, with the world’s top automaker focused on squeezing more productivity out of its plants.

Toyota also slightly raised its fiscal year profit forecast to 2.27 trillion yen ($19.40 billion), but unit sales were down in most regions, including Europe and Japan, while North America rose.

The region has stood out for Japanese automakers, with rival Honda last week saying it was a bright spot that helped offset sluggish sales at home. Toyota and its domestic rivals have benefited from healthy growth in the United States, where low interest rates proved a boon to consumers, although the slim possibility of rate hikes this year could dampen sales.

Weakening demand in emerging markets such as Thailand and Indonesia, as well as a planned consumption tax hike in Japan next year, could also eat into the market, analysts said.

“A further slowdown in emerging economies may affect (Toyota’s) sales overseas, and an expected rate hike in the United States would dampen customers’ appetite” for new cars, said Shigeru Matsumura, analyst at SMBC Friend Research Center. “These are potential risks.”

Friday’s report comes after Toyota last month kept the title of world’s top automaker for the fourth straight year after saying it sold 10.15 million vehicles globally in 2015, driving past Volkswagen and General Motors.

In the first half of 2015, the German giant, whose other brands include Porsche and Audi, was set to take the crown as it rode momentum in emerging economies.But then it posted its first drop in annual sales for more than a decade after being hammered by a massive pollution cheating scandal.

“Volkswagen is in a severe situation,” said Rakuten Securities analyst Yasuo Imanaka. “Japanese automakers can take advantage of the slump by winning Volkswagen customers. It could be a plus for Japanese firms.”

VW Delays 2015 Results, Shareholders’ Meeting

FRANKFURT, Germany — Volkswagen announcedd Friday it would postpone its 2015 annual results and its shareholder meeting due to an ongoing probe into its global emissions-cheating scandal.

The earnings news conference had been scheduled for March 10 and the shareholders’ annual general meeting (AGM) for April 21, but new dates for both events “will be announced as soon as possible,” VW said in a short statement.

The carmaker will “set a new date for the publication of the annual accounts for fiscal year 2015 due to remaining open questions and the resulting valuation calculations relating to the diesel emissions issue,” it said.

The reasoning behind the postponements is to “achieve the best possible transparent and reliable outcome for its shareholders and stakeholders,” the carmaker added.

Truck Maker Volvo Offloads Costs for Big Profit Rise

STOCKHOLM — Volvo Group, the world’s second-biggest truck maker, reported a seven-fold increase in net profit on Friday, thanks mostly to a massive cost-cutting drive.

Net profit for 2015 came in at 15.06 billion kronor ($1.78 billion), after 2.2 billion ($259.71 million) in 2014. The profit margin of the truck maker, second in the world only to Germany’s Daimler, rose to over 8% from 3% the previous year.

“This was thanks to cost reductions, but was also helped by positive currency development and capital gains from selling shares,” CEO Martin Lundstedt said in a statement.

Fourth-quarter operating income, at 5.4 billion kronor ($637.47 million), however, came in below expectations by analysts polled by Swedish financial agency Direkt. Volvo is at the end of a three-year restructuring programme which it said has reduced overheads by 10 billion kronor ($1.18 billion) annually. The company cut 5,000 jobs last year, and the payroll now stands at 99,500.

Honda Recalls 2.2 Million Cars Over Airbag Concerns

Honda is recalling 2.23 more million cars equipped with potentially defective airbags that could rupture, deepening the deadly scandal surrounding parts supplier Takata.

The recall by the American Honda Motor Co. was posted earlier this week on a consumer car safety website run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and includes older models dating back to 2005 but also some as recent as 2016. 

“The affected vehicles are equipped with a dual-stage driver frontal air bag that may be susceptible to moisture intrusion which, over time, could cause the inflator to rupture,” said the recall notice. “In the event of a crash necessitating deployment of the driver’s frontal air bag, the inflator could rupture with metal fragments striking the driver or other occupants resulting in serious injury or death.”

The recall documents specify that the vehicles contain airbags manufactured by Takata, which was fined a record $200 million last year by the NHTSA for hiding safety concerns over the exploding airbags linked to at least 10 deaths and scores of injuries. Some 50 million vehicles worldwide were recalled last year over the problem, and major car manufacturers like Honda and Nissan have dumped the Japanese parts supplier.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2016

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