Toyota to move Yaris North American production to France

TOKYO, June 23 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp said it will transfer its Yaris compact car production f or North America to France from Japan in May next year, marking the first time the company will export cars from Europe to that market.

Analysts said the move, announced by Toyota late on Friday, is aimed at keeping a strong yen and soaring energy costs from affecting its earnings. Other Japanese automakers have also shifted some export production out of Japan.

The yen dipped below 78 against the dollar at the start of June on a growing debt crisis in Europe, though it has since weakened to above 80 yen to the dollar at the end of this week following polls in Greece that elected a pro-bailout government.

The move by Toyota follows plans by domestic rivals Honda Motor Co, Nissan Motor Co and Mazda Motor Corp to open new factories in Mexico to serve North America and reduce loss-making exports from Japan.

Car makers in Japan also face costly labour regulations, high corporate taxes and an energy policy deadlock after last year’s Fukushima crisis that led to a shutdown of all of the country’s nuclear reactors.

Toyota, which lost the crown as the world’s top automaker last year, also said the annual export volume from France to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico combined would be around 25,000 units. The Yaris is known as the Vitz domestically.

The shift will require investment of an additional 8 million euros ($10 million) for the production from the French plant to meet the specific requirements of the North American market.

Only gasoline versions of Yaris will be exported to North America, Toyota said.