A healthy US auto industry is vital for a sound US economy and by extension for Japanese carmakers, a Tokyo-based lobby group has said, giving tacit approval to the latest request for federal aid from ailing rivals in Detroit earlier this week.

“The auto industry – the Big Three – plays an important role in the US economy,” Satoshi Aoki, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, told a news conference.

“The latest (aid request) is quite substantial but we hope it will lead to the health of the US auto industry,” he said, according to Reuters.

The United States is the single largest and traditionally most profitable market for Toyota, Honda and Nissan Motor.

Aoki, who is also chairman of Honda, said the US market appeared headed for a weaker year than the sales of 12.5m vehicles he had forecast for 2009 at the end of last year.

“We are still anticipating an improvement in the latter half of the year driven by economic stimulus steps under the new Obama administration, and we hope total demand will come in just below 12m units.”

Reuters noted that most industry forecasts are lower, however, with 11.5m at the higher end. The US market was 13.2m in 2008, down 18% year on year.

Aoki said the Japanese auto lobby had made no request for specific aid from the government even as many members brace for their worst annual financial results in years.

“The auto industry requires a lot of capital for research and development of advanced safety and environmental technologies but basically it’s up to each company to raise funds in the market or use its own cash reserves,” he said.

“But right now market conditions are tough and abnormal, and we only hope that the government will take steps to bring the market closer to normal levels,” he said.