Nissan Motor Co <7201.T> pushed up quarterly operating profit by 3.6 percent as record car sales last year boosted its market share in every major region, and it kept its full-year forecast unchanged at the highest level among Japan's top automakers.

Despite launching few new models, Nissan increased its global auto sales by 14 percent last year to 4.67 million vehicles, and CEO Carlos Ghosn, who also heads partner Renault SA , aims to achieve the scale he says top automakers need to invest in future technologies.

Japan's No.2 automaker earned an operating profit of 118.1 billion yen (967.27 million pounds) in the October-December quarter, slightly below the average estimate of 122.6 billion yen from 10 analysts polled by Reuters. Nissan reports under Japanese accounting standards, with earnings from China included in operating income.

Net profit rose 3.2 percent to 82.67 billion yen.

Nissan said it sold 1.205 million vehicles in the third quarter, up 19.5 percent from the previous year.

Among Japan's three leading automakers, Nissan was the fastest to recover from both the earthquake last March and flooding in Thailand that ruptured supply chains, swiftly sourcing parts from its global network. The popularity of new models such as the Rogue and Juke crossovers also helped.

Combined Renault-Nissan sales, plus those of Renault's Russian affiliate AvtoVAZ , rose 10 percent to top 8 million vehicles, ranking third worldwide behind General Motors Co and Volkswagen AG , and ahead of local rival Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T>.

For the year to March 31, Nissan stuck to its operating profit forecast at 510 billion yen, below a 547 billion yen consensus forecast in a poll of 25 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. It kept its net profit forecast at 290 billion yen.


Graphic: Nissan earnings

Graphic: Toyota earnings


Japanese market leader Toyota has forecast annual net profit of 200 billion yen and third-ranked Honda Motor Co <7267.T> has predicted net profit of 215 billion yen. Both report under U.S. accounting rules, with earnings from China included in net income.

With the launch of 20 new or reconfigured models globally over the next 24 months, Nissan has flagged more growth, particularly in the United States, where its strong-selling Altima sedan will be refreshed this year.

Nissan is also hedging aggressively against the impact of further strengthening of the yen, planning to shift production of the Infiniti JX, Rogue and Murano SUVs out of Japan, and increase the ratio of parts sourced overseas for Japan-made cars to 40 percent by 2013, double what it was in 2009.

Nissan shares have gained about 11 percent in 2012, lagging both Toyota, which is up 21 percent, and Honda, up 20 percent. The main Topix <.TOPX> index is up nearly 7 percent.

Nissan rose 2.4 percent on Wednesday ahead of its results, compared with a 1.2 percent rise in the Topix.

(Editing by Ian Geoghegan and Joseph Radford)