Propelled by strong sales in the U.S., Honda Motor Co. said Friday that its fourth-quarter profit jumped 9% despite a slowdown in its home market in Japan.
Honda's U.S. sales rose 3% in the fiscal year that ended March 31, during a time when most other major automakers were suffering sales declines. Even Toyota Motor Corp., long the biggest seller of imported cars in the U.S., could muster only 1% growth in sales in the last year.
Overall, Honda's North American sales contributed about 90% of the company's operating profit for the fiscal year.
And analysts say that because Honda has its showrooms stocked with hot products, growth will continue in the U.S. this year.
"They'll have the benefit of a full year of Pilot SUV sales, where they only had six months or so to sell it last year," said David Healy, auto analyst for Burnham Securities Inc. "And they've got the new Element" SUV, a redesigned Accord sedan and the fast-selling Odyssey minivan, he said.
Honda, Japan's second-largest automaker, acknowledged that sales in its home territory are weak, and several analysts said they doubt that the company can meet its sales projections for this year in the Japanese market.
One challenge for Honda is that rivals Toyota and Nissan Motor Co. have unveiled new vehicles in the last year that are expected to keep a lid on Honda's growth, especially in Japan.
But Koichi Amemiya, president of Torrance-based North American Honda and American Honda Motor Co., remains upbeat because of Honda's continued strength in the U.S., as well as the opening of a new auto plant in Alabama to help meet increasing demand here.
In the fourth quarter, Honda Motor reported a profit of $970 million, up from $890 million a year earlier.
Sales for the latest quarter rose 1% to $17.7 billion.
For the full fiscal year, Honda posted a $3.5-billion profit, up 17% from a $3-billion profit in fiscal 2002.
Sales for the most recent year rose 7.5% to $66 billion from $61.4 billion.
Honda's shares fell 37 cents Friday to $15.50 on the New York Stock Exchange.
Times wire services were used in compiling this report.