TOKYO - Buying control of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. has been good for Renault SA's sales in Japan.
Renault's sales jumped 27 percent, to a record 461, in March. Its sales so far this year are 1,040, up 50.3 percent over 1998.
In contrast, overall import sales dropped 3.9 percent in March and were off 0.4 percent for the first three months of 1999.
On March 27, Renault agreed to buy a controlling 36.8 percent stake in Japan's Nissan.
Junichi Nakajima, a spokesman for France Motors Co., the Renault distributor that is a unit of Yanase & Co., denied that the tie-up was behind the sales jump. He pointed out that Renault's offer to buy a stake in Nissan came in mid-March, while the sales rise began earlier.
He said the introduction of the Lutecia and several marketing initiatives were responsible for the gains.
Still, he admitted, 'It is true that the brand has become better known. People who do not know Renault vehicles have visited the showrooms.'
On the other hand, General Motors' Saturn Japan unit turned in its first down month since launching sales in Japan. Saturn Japan's March sales slipped 12.8 percent, to 156.
A Saturn spokesman said the decline was the result of a shortage of three-door coupes. He said the company has an order backlog for about 40 three-doors, which should boost sales in coming months.