Japan's car imports surge in 2011

AFP Relax News

Japanese drivers snapped up foreign cars last year, with sales by overseas manufacturers up a remarkable 22.1 percent in the fiscal year that ended on March 31.

The good news for the auto industry comes on top of a record 78.2 percent surge in auto sales in March, the biggest ever increase.

The positive figures are being pinned on renewed demand among consumers reluctant to spend in the wake of the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake.

As in other sectors, Japanese consumers dramatically reined in their spending out of a nationwide sense of not wanting to appear indifferent to the sufferings of the people of the northeast of Japan by splurging on big-ticket products.

The latest figures, provided by the Japan Automobile Importers' Association on Thursday, indicate that phase has passed.

By brand, Volkswagen remained the biggest seller over the year with 55,671 units being driven off dealers' forecourts. That figure was up 22.1 percent and gave the German auto giant a market share of just under 19 percent.

Volkswagen brands were also the most popular with drivers in Japan, with the Golf hatchback and the Polo the two most popular imported vehicles.

BMW was the next most popular foreign brand, with sales of 36,814 cars, an increase of 12.9 percent and giving it a 12.9 percent share of the Japanese market.

Imported vehicles include those manufactured overseas by Japanese firms and brought back into the country. When all imports are included, the total figure came to 295,149 units, up 22.9 percent on last year.

The biggest Japanese importer of cars to its domestic market was Nissan Motor Co., with 51,535 units, up 24.1 percent and giving it 17.46 percent of the market.

Previous data for March indicates that Japanese who may have hung onto their cars for one more year before trading them in are back in the market, with sales of new cars with engines above 660cc hitting 497,959 units. As well as being a record increase of 78.2 percent, it was the seventh consecutive month of improved sales.

The figures included sales of trucks and buses and were boosted by government subsidies for eco-friendly vehicles.