New car sales rise steeply in Japan

New car sales in Japan shot up in March from a disaster-hit low last year, while global sales for South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co also improved with brisk overseas sales offsetting for a sharp domestic drop.

Sales of new cars, trucks and buses excluding 660cc minivehicles vaulted 78 per cent to 497,959 vehicles in Japan, marking the biggest monthly gain on record, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association. Minivehicle sales were up 60.5 per cent to 253,929.

The strong gains came on a low base a year ago, with hundreds of suppliers left crippled by the historic earthquake and tsunami on 11 March in northeastern Japan forcing automakers to suspend or reduce production for months.

According to Michiro Saito, an official at the industry association, sales were also helped by the government's reinstatement of subsidies to replace clunkers, which boosted demand for hybrid cars such as (Toyota's) Prius, Alpha and (Honda's) Fit.

Toyota Motor Corp's domestic sales almost doubled to 231,358 vehicles in March, even as second-ranked Nissan Motor Co posted a 78 per cent rise and Honda Motor Co grew by 55 per cent.

For the fiscal year that ended March, total non-minivehicle sales were up 3.1 per cent to 3,064,336 as automakers recovered from the disasters faster than they initially expected and mostly made up for output losses during the second half.