Japan's Auto Sales Fall to 34-year Low in 2008

Domestic sales, excluding mini-vehicles, tumbled 6.5% from the previous year to 3.2 million units for the fifth straight annual decline.

New vehicle sales in Japan slumped to the lowest level in three decades in 2008 as recession hit Asia's biggest economy, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said on Jan. 5.

Domestic sales, excluding mini-vehicles, tumbled 6.5% from the previous year to 3.2 million units for the fifth straight annual decline. It was the lowest level since 1974 in the wake of the first oil shock, when automakers had sold 3.1 million vehicles. Auto sales reached a peak of nearly 6 million units in 1990.

The sales slump worsened towards the end of the year. In December alone sales fell 22.3% from a year earlier to 183,549 vehicles.

"It is a very serious situation," said Takeshi Fushimi, the association's director. "In the throes of a kind of economic slump that occurs once in a century, consumers' sentiment has rapidly cooled." He said affluent consumers continued to put off car purchases as the value of their investments in shares and foreign currencies eroded in the global financial crisis. Stagnant growth in wages has also curbed car sales to young people, he added.

The association predicted sales would keep slipping, setting a 2009 target of slightly over three million units. And Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said on Jan. 5 he expected that demand would turn upward in the second half of the year. "But I think it will be difficult to go up all at once. The rise will be gradual," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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