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Sales of new imported vehicles in Japan fell 3.8 percent in fiscal 2004 from the previous year to 268,703 units for the first decline in three years.

The Japan Automobile Importers Association said Wednesday that the total comprises 244,384 vehicles manufactured by non-Japanese companies, down 0.5 percent, and 24,319 units produced by Japanese automakers at overseas factories, down 27.9 percent.

The decline reflects fewer releases of new compact models, which have been bolstering the nation’s import car market, and intensified competition with vehicles made in Japan by domestic makers, it said.

Volkswagen was the top-selling brand in fiscal 2004 with a 20.84 percent market share, selling 55,989 units, up 2.7 percent, it said.

Mercedes-Benz ranked second with a 15.83 percent share, selling 42,543 units, down 8.7 percent, followed by BMW with a 14.58 percent share, selling 39,166 vehicles, up 4.9 percent.

Toyota placed fourth with a 6.20 percent share, selling 16,654 units, up 2.2 percent. Volvo ranked fifth with a 5.43 percent market share, selling 14,598 units, down 0.7 percent.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been high in the sales ranking since it began marketing in Japan Avensis sedans and station wagons assembled at its British plant from October 2003.

In March alone, sales of new imported vehicles fell 2.5 percent from a year earlier to 36,252 units for the fourth straight monthly fall, it said.

The March total comprises 33,732 units produced by non-Japanese firms, up 3.9 percent, and 2,520 units produced overseas by Japanese automakers, down 46.6 percent.

Volkswagen was the top-selling brand in March with a 23.22 percent market share, selling 8,417 units, up 8.2 percent.

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