(Updates throughout with company, analysts comments)
By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia auto correspondent
TOKYO, Jan 29 (Reuters) -Motor Co and Motor Corp kicked off the third-quarter earnings season for Japan's top auto makers on Thursday with solid sales numbers that likely put them on track to post rosy full-year profits.
Both companies have projected robust earnings for the year to March 31 driven by strong sales growth, and kept those forecasts intact despite the dollar's damaging slide against the yen.
"We continue to be on track to meet our full-year targets despite the dollar's recent fall," said Gerry Spahn,'s director of communications and investor relations, citing a healthy rise in sales volume.
Nissan, Japan's third-biggest auto maker owned 44.4 percent by France's, said global vehicle sales climbed 11.6 percent to 719,696 units during the October-December term, reaping revenues of 1.82 trillion yen ($17.14 billion).
It gave no year-on-year comparisons for revenues, but the nine-month tally, at 5.376 trillion yen, compared with a full-year forecast of 7.45 trillion yen, which calls for a 9.1 percent jump from the year before.
Japanese auto makers typically rake in bigger sales during the final quarter before closing their books.
Quarterly revenue at fifth-ranked, held one-third by Motor Co , rose 17 percent to 645.11 billion yen, fuelled by a sharp jump in European sales.
"Overall sales continue to track in the right direction for Mazda," company President Hisakazu Imaki said in a statement. "Looking at the current line of Mazda's...products, I can only expect further growth around the world in 2004."
The companies did not provide other financial figures such as operating and net profits for the latest reporting period.
Their rivals,Motor Corp , Motor Co and Motors Corp , are due to report quarterly figures over the next few weeks.
With its finances restored to health, Nissan has been boosting profits at break-neck speed by flooding the markets with racy new models. Its operating profit margin is now the highest in the industry, at 11.3 percent during the first business half.
Growth has been especially strong in the key U.S. market, where its entry into high-margin segments hitherto dominated by local auto makers helped sales grow 15 percent during the third quarter.
Spurring the growth has been Nissan's new light truck plant in Canton, Mississippi, which is due to expand capacity by 60 percent to 400,000 units in a few months.
"The impact of the Canton plant was already huge in the third quarter, not just for volume but for its model mix," said Koji Endo, a senior analyst at CSFB Securities. "But the impact will be larger in the subsequent quarters."
Sales also grew by 3.6 percent in Japan, driven by the Cube compact series, and 15 percent in Europe, thanks to the Micra and X-Trail models, bringing Nissan closer to its goal of adding one million units to global sales by late 2005 from 2002 levels.
Mazda has zoomed past its rivals in the tough European market, where it is now the fastest-growing brand. Its success there is set to continue in coming quarters following the launch last October of the hot-selling Mazda3/Axela sports compact.
Success in Europe has been a double boon for Mazda as the lofty euro raises the value of euro-based earnings when converted into yen. Unlike its rivals, the Hiroshima-based company has a bigger exposure to the euro than to the dollar.
The euro averaged 132 yen during the quarter, or 13 yen stronger than the year-earlier period. The dollar averaged 115 yen, falling eight yen, Mazda said.
For the nine months to December, Mazda said its sales volume worldwide grew 5.1 percent to 786,000 vehicles from the year-earlier period, although sales dipped 0.5 percent in Japan.
North American sales during January-September, which the company counts in its first to third reporting periods, fell eight percent, though the trend has since reversed, with double-digit percentage gains during the past three months.
For the full business year, Mazda has forecast a 28 percent jump in group operating profit to 65 billion yen -- the highest in a decade -- a 24 percent rise in net profit to 30 billion yen and a 5.7 percent growth in sales to 2.5 trillion yen.
Nissan also kept its full-year forecasts for an 11 percent rise in group operating profit to a record 820 billion yen and a flat net profit of 495 billion yen.
During the third quarter, shares in Nissan inched up 1.6 percent to 1,224 yen, short of a 5.5 percent rise in the transport sector index . The shares have since lost ground, ending Thursday at 1,152 yen before the announcement.
Mazda's shares rose 1.8 percent during the three months, and ended down 1.96 percent at 300 yen on Thursday after the news.
The broader TOPIX index closed down 0.76 percent on the day. ($1=106.18 Yen)