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Japanese firms rev up auto output

The first Auris Hybrid to roll off Toyota Motor Corp.'s production lines in Britain goes on sale on Thursday, underlining the recovery in the Japanese auto industry.

That is backed up by the release of statistics by the nation's eight largest carmakers that show combined overseas production climbing 39.1 percent in May to 1,001,273 units - higher than their production figures before the Lehman Brothers crash. In May 2008, the eight firms' output reached 991,573 units.

The road has been a rocky one for Japan's car manufacturers - production lines have been idled and Toyota was embroiled in an investigation in the United States over safety issues - but the manufacturers appear to have emerged relatively unscathed and, arguably, in a stronger position than other makers.

Despite its negative press over the last six months, the Auris is the first hybrid vehicle to be mass-produced in Europe and the company aims to sell 30,000 units in 32 countries across the continent every year.

At a line-off ceremony at Toyota's Derby plant on Monday, Toyota Motor Europe President Didier Leroy said he was "extremely pleased" that the company was making Europe's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, which was testament to the close working relationship between Toyota, the British government and the firm's employees.

Not to be outdone, Nissan Motor Co. has marked the start of exports of its all-new March global compact car - also known as the Micra in some markets - from its plant in Thailand.

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn attended the ceremony at the firm's plant 20 km east of Bangkok, where 90,000 units are to be produced in fiscal 2010 for export to Asia, excluding China and Indonesia. The cars will also be shipped to Oceania markets and the fast-growing Thai market, as well as back to Japan.

Nissan is also to produce the revamped vehicle at its facility in Chennai, India, for export to Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

In all, the March will be available in 160 countries and regions around the world as Nissan aims to develop a truly global product. The basic price for the car will be Y999,600 (€9,241) while the top-of-the-range version will sell for Y1.64 million (€15,162).

Daihatsu Motor Co. has also announced plans to launch a new minicar that will be as efficient as gasoline-electric hybrid models, with the domestic market the primary target, along with Indonesia and Malaysia.

Automakers attribute the growth in overseas output to increasing production in China and other emerging economies, as well as recovering output in the North American market.

Nissan recorded a 49.2 percent increase in output in May to 229,857 units, while Suzuki Motor Co.'s figures were up 17.6 percent to 149,010 vehicles. Daihatsu recorded a best-ever 51.6 percent improvement to 12,120 units.