Japan's domestic sales of new cars, trucks and buses logged their biggest-ever drop in April, an industry group said Monday as the March quake and tsunami hit production and supplies to dealers.
The sales came to 108,824 units in April, down 51 percent from a year earlier, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said.
The drop, far steeper than a 37 % fall in March, was the biggest since the data began being recorded in 1968. The previous record fall was 45.1 % in May 1974 when Japan was reeling from the oil crisis.
Auto sales plunged in April as automakers were forced to halt factory lines with parts supply disrupted in the aftermath of the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Factories have since resumed production but the association was cautious about sales from May onwards. Analysts say a parts supply shortage that has strangled production may last for months.
"Factory lines started moving again but they are not operating fully yet. We are likely to continue feeling the impact (of the disaster)," a spokesman at the association said.
The official said auto sales were down because the supply of new vehicles had been hit as a result of the March 11 disasters, amid dampened consumer sentiment.
Japan's biggest recorded quake and the tsunami it unleashed shattered supply chains and crippled electricity-generating facilities, including a nuclear power plant at the centre of an ongoing atomic emergency.
Many key component manufacturers are based in the worst-hit regions and suffered damage to their facilities from the 9.0 magnitude earthquake or were inundated by the giant wave that followed.
Sales of Toyota Motor vehicles dropped 68.7 % to 35,557 vehicles in April. Nissan Motor vehicle sales tumbled 37.2 % to 17,413 in the month, while Honda sales dived 48.5 % to 18,923.
Last week data showed a 15.3 % dive in Japan's industrial production in March on-month, the sharpest since records began in 1953, due mostly to crippled vehicle production.
Consumer sentiment has also plunged. Japanese household spending plunged by 8.5 % in March from a year earlier in the biggest drop since records began in 1964, separate data showed last week.
Although sales of water and food surged as people stockpiled immediately after the quake and the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, consumers have held off spending on non-essential items.