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Toyota to suspend production for 11 days in Japan

TOKYO Toyota is suspending production at all 12 of its Japan plants for 11 days over February and March, a stoppage of unprecedented scale for the nation s top automaker as it grapples with shrinking global demand.

The last time Toyota Motor Corp. halted production at all its Japan plants was in August, 1993, when demand plunged because of a rising yen, and that was for only one day, according to the company.

A global economic downturn has hammered the auto industry in Japan and elsewhere, forcing carmakers to cut staff, lower production and delay new models. Major automakers in the U.S. had teetered on the brink of collapse until securing a multibillion dollar government lifeline.

We are coping with a slump in global sales, Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma said Tuesday. Demand in the world auto market is so depressed that every model is falling sharply in sales.

Toyota said last year that it was stopping production at its 12 domestic plants for three days in January. But it decided on additional closures because of the global downturn. Toyota will stop output for six days in February and five days in March, it said.

Of Toyota s domestic factories, four produce vehicles while the rest make engines and auto parts.

Overnight, Toyota reported that its U.S. sales in December were down 37 percent on year, a worse drop than Ford Motor Co. s 32 percent drop and General Motor s 31 percent slide.

Toyota last year suspended production at its auto plants in Alabama, Indiana and Texas for three months, and shut down output for two days in December at all its North American vehicle factories including five in the United States, one in Canada and another in Mexico.

Chrysler LLC also shut down its plants for a month in December, longer than the usual two-week break, while GM has said it would shut down a plant in Thailand for up to two months.

Toyota is also struggling in its home market, which has been stagnant for years. The sales drop has worsened amid a global recession.

Sales of new vehicles in Japan fell to 3.2 million vehicles last year, the lowest in 34 years, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said Monday.

Last month, Toyota said it was slipping into its first operating loss in 70 years, expecting 150 billion yen ($1.66 billion ) of operating losses for the fiscal year ending March, 2009.

Toyota, which makes the Prius gas-electric hybrid and Camry sedan, expects 50 billion yen ($555 million) in net profit, down from 1.7 trillion yen earned the previous year.

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