Business

Toyota earnings tumble 75%

Toyota's quarterly profit crumbled more than 75 per cent after the March earthquake and tsunami wiped out parts suppliers in northeastern Japan, severely disrupting car production.
Toyota's fourth-quarter profit tumbled after a March earthquake and tsunami in Japan disrupted its production. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Toyota's quarterly profit crumpled more than 75 per cent after the March earthquake and tsunami wiped out parts suppliers in northeastern Japan, severely disrupting car production.

The maker of the popular Prius hybrid gave no forecast for the current fiscal year through March 2012, citing an uncertain outlook because production continues to be hampered by shortages of parts. Toyota is expected to lose its spot as the world's top-selling automaker to General Motors Co. this year because of the disasters.

The automaker's president Akio Toyoda said he and others at Toyota are "gritting our teeth" to keep jobs in Japan. He promised to disclose earnings forecasts by mid-June.

Full-year profit doubled

Toyota Motor Corp. reported Wednesday that January-March profit slid to 25.4 billion yen ($301.2 million Cdn) from 112.2 billion yen a year earlier. For the fiscal year ended March 2011, Toyota's earnings doubled, showing that the Japanese automaker had been on the way to recovery from its recall crisis when the magnitude-9.0 earthquake struck on March 11.

But Toyota also said efforts to fix production, including using other plants and finding replacement parts, were going better than initially expected, with car manufacturing expected to gradually pick up in Japan and abroad from next month to 70 per cent of pre-disaster levels.

Toyota earlier said such production improvements wouldn't start in Japan until about July, and overseas in August, with a full recovery not expected until late this year.

"Our priority is to get our production back to normal and recover from the disaster," a sombre Toyoda told reporters. When a full recovery would come was still unknown, he said.

Production lost

By the end of May, the crisis has cost the company production of 550,000 vehicles in Japan, and another 350,000 overseas. Production is now back at about 50 per cent.

"By reviving our company, we want to help bring Japan's comeback," said Toyoda.

Analysts say the quake and tsunami have sorely hurt Toyota but a production recovery could come quickly.

"I think chances may be good that getting production back would be speedy," Shotaro Noguchi, analyst at SMBC Nikko Capital Markets in Tokyo, said in a recent report.

Still, Toyota may face a different kind of challenge in the months ahead because the government has asked for a shutdown of the Hamaoka nuclear power plant, which is located on a fault-line and furnishes the power supply for the region where Toyota is headquartered and has many of its plants and suppliers.