• Kyodo News

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Sales of new vehicles in Japan plunged 15.6 percent to a 38-year low of 2,891,901 units in fiscal 2008, punctuating six consecutive years of decline with a steep dropoff as the nation plunged deeper into recession, an industry body said Wednesday.

It is the first time since fiscal 1971 that domestic sales of new cars, buses and trucks, excluding minivehicles with engines of 660cc or less, were under 3 million units, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

In March alone, sales plunged 31.5 percent to 323,063 units, the association said.

“We usually see the biggest demand in March, but these results show that the level of severity in auto sales is increasing,” Takeshi Fushimi, the association’s director, told reporters.

The March figure is the lowest since 1974, when the first oil crisis pushed domestic sales down to 293,598 units.

“We need immediate measures to ease the chilled consumer sentiment on vehicle sales,” he said, pinning some hope on tax breaks to be offered for fuel-efficient vehicles starting this month.

Japan’s top three automakers suffered double-digit sales declines in the full business year as well as in March.

Honda halt abroad

Honda Motor Co. said Wednesday it will suspend production at its North American factories for several days in each of the three to five months from May to draw down piled-up inventory amid poor car sales.

The planned step will likely reduce the company’s output for the year ending next March by an estimated 62,000 vehicles, industry watchers said.

Four factories in the U.S. and one in Canada will close for a total of 13 days between May and July. Work will be suspended for 13 days between May and September at a Mexican factory, the company said.

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