Japan auto sales soar by record 78.2% in March

Japanese automobile sales saw their biggest-ever monthly surge in March, data showed Monday, a year after domestic demand plummeted in the wake of the country's quake-tsunami disaster.

Sales of new vehicles with engines above 660cc stood at 497,959 last month, up a record 78.2 percent from March 2011, and marking the seventh consecutive rise, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said.

The figures, also boosted by government subsidies for eco-friendly vehicles, include large vehicles such as lorries and buses as well as cars.

"The sharp gain was exceptional because it was mainly due to a considerable plunge in March last year when the disaster struck the country," an association spokesman said.

New vehicle purchases slumped 37.0 percent in March last year following the earthquake-tsunami, but have since staged a recovery with rises of 31.9 percent in February and 40.7 percent in January.

January was the first complete month of sales after Tokyo re-introduced subsidies for eco-friendly vehicles that can cut thousands of dollars from their price tags, a move aimed at boosting the domestic automobile industry.

Japanese automakers were last year pummelled by the March disasters and subsequent nuclear crisis as well as record flooding in Thailand, which disrupted supply chains.

The Japan Mini Vehicles Association separately said that March sales of mini vehicles with engines below 660cc jumped 60.5 percent to 253,929 units from a year earlier, the sixth consecutive monthly rise.

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