Sales of imported vehicles in Japan plunged to a 15-year low in 2008 as consumers shied away from pricey foreign cars amid a deepening global downturn, an industry group said Thursday.
The Japanese bought 219,231 imported vehicles in 2008, down 17.3 percent from a year earlier, said the Japan Automobile Importers Association. The figure, which includes vehicles made by Japanese automakers abroad, marked the lowest sales since 1993.
U.S. and other foreign automakers have long struggled to gain a foothold in Japan’s car market and imported vehicles make up only 7 percent of annual sales of new vehicles in Japan.
Foreign cars — especially European models — are seen as a status symbol among the wealthy, but most Japanese prefer domestic cars made by companies such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. for their reasonable prices and compact sizes.
“Sales started to fall around mid-2008 due to high oil prices, but what really plummeted sales was the current recession,” said Yasuhiko Yokota, a spokesman for the association. “Consumer sentiment rapidly deteriorated in late 2008, and a plunge in sales was unstoppable.”
Japan, the world’s second-largest economy, slipped into recession last year, hit by the U.S. financial crisis and global downturn.
Germany’s Volkswagen AG sold 45,522 vehicles last year, ranking top among foreign automakers with a 20 percent share in Japan’s imported vehicle market.
Mercedes-Benz brand cars came in second with sales of 37,002 units, or 17 percent of the imported vehicle market share. BMW AG ranked third, selling 35,945 units last year.
Ford Motor Co. sold just 3,818 vehicles in Japan and Chrysler LLC sold only 1,593 units.
Japanese automakers are also struggling to shore up sagging sales at home and abroad, cutting jobs and production to cope with shrinking global demand.
Sales of new vehicles in Japan fell to 3.2 million units in 2008, the lowest in 34 years, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.