TOKYO - Importers are fighting back in Japan.
Foreign carmakers are still trying to move the iron, despite one of the worst prolonged sales slumps in Japanese automotive history. In May, sales of imported cars fell 15.6 percent, pulled down by a 68.4 percent collapse of sales of 'reimports' - cars built abroad by Japanese makers and imported into Japan.
Sales of so-called pure imports fell a more modest 9.1 percent in May to 18,539, the Japan Auto-mobile Importers Association said.
Indeed, several foreign importers stepped up their marketing efforts ahead of the June bonus season. During June, Japanese workers receive semiannual bonuses, which can equal between two and four months' pay. Car dealers see bonus season as a prime opportunity to lure shoppers into showrooms.
Automakers are offering special versions, with extra equipment for low prices or free, of the Saturn SW2 wagon, Volkswagen Golf wagon and Polo, BMW 318ti, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Peugeot 106.
Saab launched the 9-3 in Japan, with a sales target of 500 this model year, at prices from ¥3.4 million (about $24,285). Starting from a small base, Saab is enjoying a strong year. Sales, which jumped to 193 in May from only 15 in May 1997, have more than tripled so far this year, to 689.