TOKYO - Japan's vehicle sales took another tumble in May, falling 10.9 percent from a year earlier to 428,997 units.
Sales also were off sharply in April, when the consumption tax, a kind of national sales tax, was raised to 5 percent, from 3 percent. March sales set a record as shoppers bought early to avoid the tax.
The May decline would have been even steeper except for an unusual end-of-month buying spike.
According to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association, 20 percent of all cars sold in May were registered on the final sales day. The implication: Dealers may have been buying for their own account, either to meet sales quotas or to stock up on test-drive cars ahead of a marketing push tied to summer bonuses.
Import sales slid 27 percent to 22,919 units, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.
Sales of Japanese-badged imports, Japanese cars built overseas and brought back to Japan for sale as well as the General Motors-built Toyota Cavalier, fell 52.3 percent.
Excluding those vehicles, sales of so-called 'pure' imports fell 20.3 percent to 191,804.
Bucking the trend, sales of Volkswagen-brand cars rose 7.7 percent to 3,451.
Porsche also managed a gain - 18.2 percent, to 234 units - with the help of strong demand for the new Boxster roadster.
Among Japanese makers, Honda Motor Co.'s sales dropped 2.6 percent. Excluding sales of its minicars, vehicles with engines smaller than 660cc, and its imports, Honda's sales skidded 14.8 percent.
It was the first double-digit drop for Honda in two years and five months.
A string of hit new models, mostly minivans, propelled Honda sharply higher throughout 1996. However, its flow of new models is slowing to a trickle. Honda has forecast that its biggest sales increase this year will come primarily from the Life minicar, which it launched in January. Honda's minicar sales in May jumped 57 percent.
Overall, sales of minicars and minitrucks fell 14.9 percent in May to 109,058, according to the Japan Mini Vehicles Association.
Among other carmakers, sales were off 8.8 percent at Toyota Motor Corp., 13.5 percent at Nissan Motor Co., 14.7 percent at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and 26.2 percent at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., maker of Subaru cars.
However, Mazda Motor Corp. sales rose 9.8 percent, thanks to strong demand for its popular Demio small van.