PARIS Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) has begun exporting French-made Yaris compact cars to customers in North America for the first time this month.
Toyota said it planned to export around 25,000 gasoline versions of the Yaris built at the northern French town of Onnaing, near Valenciennes, to the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico annually.
"There are many reasons to preserve production of compact cars in France but all partners need to work together to maintain Toyota Motor Manufacturing France's competitive advantage," Toyota Motor Europe Chief Executive Didier Leroy said in a statement on Thursday.
The Yaris accounted for nearly 22 percent of Toyota's total European sales in 2012, with 182,841 vehicles, the Japanese carmaker said.
Production in France for export to North America began on May 6, it said.
Toyota's plan, unveiled last June, followed decisions by Japanese rivals Honda Motor Co (7267.T), Nissan Motor Co (7201.T) and Mazda Motor Corp (7261.T) to open factories in Mexico to serve North America and reduce loss-making exports from Japan.
French carmakers Renault (RENA.PA) and PSA Peugeot Citroen (PEUP.PA) are trying to cut costs as they struggle with overcapacity and weak demand for cars in Europe.
Renault aims to cut 7,500 posts in France by 2016 and has negotiated a nationwide deal on pay and conditions to boost competitiveness, while PSA is scrapping more than 10,000 domestic jobs and closing an assembly plant near Paris.
(Reporting by James Regan. Editing by Jane Merriman)