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Toyota's quarterly profits rise 9 percent on strong sales

From| May 10,2007

Toyota's profit in the January-March quarter climbed 9 percent as the automaker marked its seventh straight fiscal year of record sales amid robust demand for its Corolla, Camry and Lexus models.

Toyota Motor Corp., which beat General Motors in worldwide vehicle production and sales in the first quarter for the first time ever, reported a quarterly group profit of 440.1 billion yen (US$3.67 billion) from 404 billion yen the same period the previous year.

Toyota's sales are surging as soaring gas prices boost the appeal of its models, which are reputed worldwide for fuel-efficiency, including gas-and-electric hybrids like the Prius.

Analysts say Toyota is growing so quickly it's just a matter of time before it overtakes problem-laden General Motors Corp. of the U.S. to become the world's No. 1 automaker -- a title that technically hinges on annual worldwide vehicle production.

Toyota's sales in the fiscal fourth quarter rose 10 percent to 6.3 trillion yen (US$52.5 billion) from 5.75 trillion yen the previous year.

Detroit-based GM, the world's largest automaker the last 76 years, is seeing its U.S. market share shrink, and has announced a restructuring plan to stem billions in losses.

Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe was typically understated when asked about the prospects of beating GM.

"Rather than think about other companies, I feel that we must do our utmost to satisfy customers around the world," he said. "There is plenty left for us to do."

He said his company aims to boost sales in "every region" around the world, while acknowledging the auto industry remains tough, with many obstacles.

"We see them as opportunities, and we will strive to continue to achieve growth," he told reporters at a Tokyo hotel.

Toyota sold 2.35 million vehicles worldwide in the January-March period, surpassing the 2.266 million vehicles GM sold in the quarter.

Earlier this month, GM reported a US$62 million profit in the first three months of the year for a second consecutive quarter of black ink. It lost US$10.4 billion in 2005 but underwent massive restructuring and trimmed its losses to US$2 billion in 2006.

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