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Japanese Sell Record Number of Cars in United States


Japan's top automakers say they sold a record number of vehicles last year in the United States, but the auto industry is experiencing a slump at home.

Despite a stronger yen, which makes Japanese products more expensive overseas, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda raised their combined share of the U.S. market to more than 30-percent last year. Japan's big-three carmakers sold nearly 4.5 million vehicles in the United States in 2004.

But at home, Japanese automakers saw a drop in sales for the first time in two years. Domestic sales last year fell 1.6 percent to just below four-million vehicles.

Toyota's chairman is predicting Japan's economy overall will grow this year. Hiroshi Okuda is also chairman of the powerful Japan Business Federation, known as Keidanren. Mr. Okuda says he expects that the economies of the United States and China will improve in the second half of the year and that will help Japan's economy expand.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has made a New Year's resolution to continue cutting public spending and closing or selling state-run enterprises - actions, he says, that are needed to help the economy. Japan's economy is just beginning to come out of more than a decade-long slump.

But Mr. Koizumi also is calling on the private sector to take a leading role, saying it needs to maintain growth so that the economy can enjoy favorable conditions.

Two Japanese companies are part of an international consortium that has won a bid to build the largest-ever power generation and sea-water desalination plant.

Trading company Marubeni and general engineering company JGC say that it will take 20 years to complete the project for the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority in the United Arab Emirates. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation and an international group of commercial banks have committed to financing two-thirds of the $3 billion project.