TOKYO -- Nissan Motor Co. overtook carmakers including BMW in 2011 to become the second-largest importer of cars to Japan.
Nissan, which makes the March (sold as the Micra in Europe) subcompact in Thailand and ships it to Japan, boosted imports 86 percent to 50,269 vehicles last year, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.
Volkswagen led Japan's import car market with 50,635 vehicles, an increase of 8.4 percent from a year earlier. Imports by Japanese automakers rose 62.3 percent to 69,787 cars.
"The increase is purely from the March," Toshitake Inoshita, a Nissan spokesman said on Thursday.
Nissan shifted output of the March/Micra to Thailand from Oppama, Japan, in March 2010 to offset the effect of a strengthening yen that erodes profit from exporting Japanese-made cars, and to cut costs by basing production close to suppliers.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn said in October that Japanese automakers would continue shifting production overseas because of the strong yen.
"The increase in cars made by Japanese automakers overseas will continue," Yoshiaki Kawano, an analyst at industry researcher IHS Automotive, said by phone today. "With the strong yen, imports of models like the March that are targeted for sales in all regions are only likely to grow."
Imports into Japan by BMW rose 5.5 percent to 34,195 vehicles last year, accounting for 12.41 percent of the import market, while VW had an 18.37 percent share and Nissan accounted for 18.24 percent, according to the importers' association.
Toyota Motor Corp. boosted imports 50 percent from a year earlier to 15,377 vehicles.
Nissan aims to boost its production rate in the Americas to about 85 percent of the vehicles sold in the region by 2015, from about 70 percent now, Bill Krueger, vice chairman of the company's operations in the Americas, said this week at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.
Japan's currency has risen about 8 percent against the dollar in the past 12 months, the strongest performer among the 16 most-traded currencies tracked by Bloomberg.
Nissan began construction last year of a plant in Brazil, and the company has said it seeks to build a third auto-assembly factory in Mexico, where it has capacity to produce 700,000 vehicles a year. Details of an expansion in Mexico may come within weeks, Ghosn said in a Jan. 9 interview in Detroit, without elaborating.