TOKYO -- Honda and Suzuki were the only Japanese automakers with higher domestic sales in 2008. Overall, domestic sales fell 4.8 percent from 2007.
Light-vehicle sales fell to 4,920,212 in 2008, dragged down by a 13.8 percent tumble in the October-December quarter. Excluding the popular minicar segment -- vehicles with 660cc engines -- sales fell to their lowest level since 1974.
Japanese automakers long have been accustomed to falling sales at home as Japans population ages and shrinks. But the pace of the decline has increased in recent months, with the global credit crunch spreading from North America and Europe. Companies here are slashing earnings forecasts and production to adjust.
Small fuel-efficient models helped lift Honda Motor Co. and Suzuki Motor Corp. above domestic rivals in 2008. Hondas sales inched ahead, but only 0.4 percent to 624,547 vehicles. Suzuki sales advanced a meager 0.1 percent to 669,938.
Toyota Motor Corp., the worlds largest automaker, saw its sales shrink 4.8 percent to 2,152,410 units, including results from small-car specialist Daihatsu and truckmaker Hino.
The downturn in domestic sales volume has accelerated, JP Morgan analyst Takaki Nakanishi said in a report. It is disappointing to see such an abrupt contraction at this stage in the domestic market, where the financial crisis has had less of an impact than in the West.
In December, domestic sales tumbled 22.3 percent, the biggest decline ever for that month, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.
In the fourth quarter, Suzuki posted a 0.4 percent sales increase. But all other Japanese manufacturers suffered double-digit declines. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp. fared the worst, with Mitsubishi falling 22.8 percent and Mazda sliding 21.2 percent.
And the outlook gets bleaker. The association sees sales falling 4.9 percent in 2009, keeping volume below the 5 million mark for a second-straight year.
In 2008, foreign brands were hit even harder than domestics. Imports declined 17.3 percent to 219,231 units, while the Japanese retreated only 4.7 percent to 4,877,117.
General Motors was the only foreign maker with higher sales. GM sales rose 25.6 percent to 12,363 vehicles, thanks largely to the introduction of the right-hand-drive Cadillac CTS.
Inexpensive fuel-efficient minicars retained their popularity. For the second-straight month, they grabbed 40 percent of the domestic market.
Six of the nine best-selling cars in the fourth quarter were minis. The only non-minis making the list were the Honda Fit and the Toyota Vitz and Corolla.