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Profits motoring ahead at Toyota

Japanese car firm Toyota has said it is set for an eighth year of record earnings, after reporting a 19% profit rise for the last three months of 2006.

Japan's biggest carmaker - which is set to take Ford's number two place in US sales in 2007 - made operating profits of ¥574.9 billion ($4.78 billion). Its energy-efficient Prius hybrid and models such as the RAV4, Lexus LS and Camry sedans are helping sales. Toyota kept its full-year operating profit forecast of ¥2.2 trillion. „The earnings numbers themselves are good and showed the strength of Toyota, especially in the North American market,” said Mitsushige Akino of Ichiyoshi Investment Management. Toyota's strength continues a trend that has been visible for several months, with US car firms struggling to compete with Asian rivals who have moved towards more efficient vehicles. Earlier this week, Toyota said January vehicle sales were up 9.5% year-on-year, with car sales climbing 13.1% and sales of trucks 5% higher. In contrast, General Motors (GM) saw sales down 16.6% and Ford sales dropped 19% with both firms suffering a decline in sales to rental firms. Last week, Honda reported a 5.2% rise in quarterly operating profits. (BBC NEWS)