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New car sales in areas struck by the quake-tsunami catastrophe nose-dived in March, data released by an industry body showed Wednesday, fanning concerns that the aftermath of the twin disasters could hit the broader economy.

As new vehicle sales across the country in March also recorded the largest year-on-year decline on record, they are expected to remain sluggish in April, given that automakers are cutting back on production and are keeping cars in short supply, analysts said.

In March, new car sales other than minivehicles in the three hardest-hit prefectures plummeted 69.4 percent on year to 2,695 units in Miyagi, 58.4 percent to 3,128 units in Fukushima and 53.6 percent to 2,047 units in Iwate, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

New car sales dropped 37.0 percent from a year earlier to 279,389 units nationwide, falling at the fastest pace for March since auto sales data began to be compiled in 1968, JADA said.

Apart from the disaster-ravaged Tohoku region, new vehicle sales dropped 41.0 percent to 11,406 units in Chiba Prefecture and 38.2 percent to 6,965 units in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Sales also declined more than 30 percent in Tokyo, as well as in Niigata and Saitama prefectures, the association said.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius hybrid hatchback was the top-selling vehicle for the second straight year in fiscal 2010, data released by industry bodies showed Wednesday.

Sales of the fuel-efficient vehicle rose 2.1 percent from a year earlier to 283,332 units in the fiscal year that ended March 31, according to the association.

Prius built its popularity on the back of its high energy efficiency and the government’s subsidy program for purchases of environmentally friendly vehicles. But sales of the car have been falling since the stimulus measure expired in September.

Honda Motor Co.’s Fit compact was in second place with sales of 189,369 units, up 9.4 percent, followed by Suzuki Motor Corp.’s WagonR minicar, which sold 177,215 units, down 8.4 percent, according to the Japan Mini Vehicles Association.

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