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Automakers are waging a price war in an attempt to lift sales amid the prolonged recession.

By slashing the recommended retail prices of remodeled cars as well as launching new models, they hope to bolster their competitiveness and spur demand.

In the past, dealers sometimes negotiated price cuts with prospective car buyers in the showroom on models that would soon be superseded by newer versions. But the current move to reduce prices of newly remodeled cars is the first of its kind in Japan, an industry watcher said.

“I hope that the price-cutting competition will open the way for expanding domestic consumption,” he said.

In September, Toyota Motor Corp. released a special edition of its best-selling Corolla at a price 30,000 yen lower than that of the basic model. According to a Toyota official, this represents “a significant discount.”

The special edition features water-repellent glass with ultraviolet ray protection.

Since the beginning of the year, Toyota has been offering discounts ranging between 2 percent and 6 percent on most of its Fun Cargo and Vitz compact cars, and its Opa station wagon.

“They are a really good buy,” the official said.

Other carmakers are trying not to be outdone.

In October, Honda Motor Co. stepped up to the plate with an improved versions of its Odyssey minivan at prices up to 70,000 yen lower than the basic model.

The company has also upgraded the equipment installed in its minicar models and is selling them for 60,000 yen less than the basic model.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Mazda Motor Corp. and Suzuki Motor Corp. have jumped on the bandwagon.

“We don’t want to get bogged down in a war of attrition by continuing the price-cutting competition,” an official of one of the smaller automakers said. But with the industry leader offering discount prices, “we have no choice but to follow suit,” he added.

Foreign automakers have also entered the battle.

In September, the subsidiaries of France’s Peugeot and Citroen discounted their compact car prices by margins of between 80,000 yen and 100,000 yen.

They appear intent on grabbing market share from German makers — long the leaders in the imported car market.

But despite all these efforts, car sales remain in the doldrums.

According to the Japan Automobile Dealers’ Association, new car sales in the first 10 months of this year fell 3.4 percent from a year earlier to 3.33 million.

The Japan Mini Vehicles Association reported that domestic sales of new minivehicles during the same period posted only a marginal increase of 0.5 percent to 1.55 million.

Toyota and Honda chalked up record sales and profits for the first half to Sept. 30, thanks to brisk sales abroad, and other Japanese makers also reported strong midterm results.

But with consumers maintaining a tight hold on their purse strings, the price-cutting and other marketing competition is expected to continue for some time to come.

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