TOKYO -- A sales plunge at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. showed no sign of waning in August as customers continued to worry about quality problems, which were underscored by fresh recalls submitted by its truck affiliate on Wednesday.
Sales of new cars excluding minivehicles at scandal-hit Mitsubishi Motors skidded 57 percent from a year earlier to just 2,946 units in Japan, falling by more than half for the fourth straight month.
Its domestic sales of 660 cc minicars tanked 39 percent to 7,197 units, against a 2.6 percent rise for Japan's overall minivehicle market, which expanded from the year before for the ninth consecutive month.
Mitsubishi, which looks set to be overtaken by Mazda Motor Corp. as Japan's fourth-largest car maker this year, has been hit by consumers' distrust in the brand due to revelations that it continued to cover up vehicle defects after promising an end to such illegal practices in 2000.
"MMC's business conditions are about as tough as they get," Deutsche Securities analyst Tatsuo Yoshida wrote in a recent report citing the absence of new mass-volume models, recall problems and weaker ties with DaimlerChrysler AG.
"All this can only combine to discourage consumers from purchasing MMC models and exasperate dealers, leading them to withdraw from the MMC sales network."
Prosecutors have so far linked two fatal truck accidents to the company's decision to conceal quality problems from authorities, charging several former executives with negligence and falsifying product-related reports.
Three of the officials, including Takashi Usami, former chairman of MMC's spun-off truck arm, Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp., faced their first public hearing on Wednesday, pleading not guilty to falsifying reports, Kyodo news agency reported.
In a further blow to its brand and bottom line, the unlisted truck maker, now held 65 percent by DaimlerChrysler, submitted two recall cases covering about 145,300 trucks after finding faults in the electric wiring and cabins.
It will also repair free of charge some 247,000 medium-sized and heavy-duty trucks built between 1984 and 1999 that do not fall under the recall category.
That is a huge number for Fuso, which sold 5,942 trucks and buses in August, down 9.6 percent from a year earlier, and 54,623 units in the year to date.
A spokesman said the recalls and repairs could cost up to 8 billion yen ($75 million), but that the actual spending will likely be much lower since some of the vehicles would have been scrapped.
Fuso had already announced a recall of about 168,000 trucks with defective clutch housings in May, admitting that the glitch may have killed a truck driver two years ago.
Wednesday's recalls and service campaign are part of 47 quality-related cases that Fuso aims to file with the transport ministry by the end of October. It has completed 14 so far.
INDUSTRY-WIDE AUTO SALES RISE
MMC's dismal sales came against a rise in demand in the overall Japanese market in August, although the figures were partly helped by one extra registration day compared with the same month last year.
Demand for new cars, trucks and buses in Japan including 660 cc minivehicles rose 2.2 percent in August to 362,700 units. Excluding minicars, sales rose 2.1 percent to 250,736 units, up for the first time in seven months.
Reversing the recent trend, sales of passenger cars rose 4.7 fuelled by a 6.7 percent climb at industry leader Toyota Motor Corp. and a 21 percent jump at third-ranked Honda Motor Co., which recently launched the Elysion and Edix minivans.
Sales at second-ranked Nissan Motor Co. fell 12 percent due to a dearth of new models, although analysts expect an upturn soon as it prepares to launch a string of new models, starting with the Murano SUV on Thursday.
Mazda's sales inched down 0.8 percent, while Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. posted a 5.5 percent rise.