Japan auto executives hope for US recovery

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Japan auto executives gathered for an annual New Year's party Monday expressed hopes for a U.S. turnaround and a strengthening dollar to fix the faltering global market.

Japan's export-dependent automakers have been battered by the slowdown in the U.S. set off by the financial crisis last year. The rising yen has also hurt the companies. The dollar, which had cost 113 yen a year ago, is trading at about 90 yen lately, a 13-year low.

Despite the hard times, the annual event at a Tokyo hotel hosted by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, which groups this nation's automakers, was packed with suited businessmen and other guests eager to start the new year by networking toward a recovery.

Takeo Fukui, president and chief executive of Japan's No. 2 automaker, Honda Motor Co., said he hoped the global economy had bottomed out. Tokyo-based Honda has its hopes on the hybrid Insight set to go on sale later this year, he said, but the main problems were the U.S. downturn and the weak dollar.

"First of all, the U.S. market has to recover," he told reporters. "The yen is at an abnormally high level. The Japanese economy needs its export industries."

Honda, which makes the Odyssey minivan and Accord sedan, has cut production to adjust to slowing demand, and slashed its profit forecast for the fiscal year ending in March to 185 billion yen ($2.0 billion), less than a third of its previous year's earnings.

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