TOKYO - New-vehicle sales in Japan tumbled 15.1 percent last month to 438,855 units as a heavy surge of tax-related buying that had buoyed the market in February and March ran out of steam.
Import sales slid 37 percent.
Sales in February and March had boomed as shoppers hurried to buy in order to beat an April 1 increase in the sales tax. The tax, which had been 3 percent, was increased to 5 percent. Strong sales in the first two months of the year pulled sales away from April.
Despite the April drop, sales are up 5.3 percent for the year to date.
The skid in import sales in April, to 20,869 units, was the largest since 1990, when the Japan Automobile Importers Association began releasing separate import-sales statistics.
Imports also have been hurt by a weaker yen, which puts upward pressure on import prices. The drop-off in volume also reflects a decision by Japanese carmakers to reduce so-called reimports - cars built in their factories abroad and brought back for sale in Japan.
Sales of all reimports fell 44.6 percent to a mere 3,206 units in April, fewer than those of either Volkswagen Group or BMW Group.
Sales of minivehicles, those with engines under 660cc, also fell more than the industry as a whole. Mini sales slumped 21.4 percent to 111,880 units, the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said.
Sales remained strong for recreational vehicles, including minivans, sport-utilities and station wagons. RV sales, excluding mini and imported RVs, rose 18.3 percent to 135,140 units, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.
The sales drop hit all Japanese makers. Only Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. managed to limit their sales declines to single digits. Honda's sales fell 4.1 percent, the first decline since December, 1994. Nissan's dropped 5.5 percent.
Sales at industry-leader Toyota Motor Corp. fell 16.6 percent.
Among imports, BMW scored a 2.9 percent sales gain, although a drop at its Rover unit pulled group sales down 15.4 percent.
Elsewhere, the numbers were all off. Sales were down 13 percent at VW Group, 41.6 percent at General Motors, 44.2 percent at Chrysler, 61.7 percent at Volvo and 66.1 percent at Ford.