Japanese auto exports in July increased 20.5% from the same month a year ago to 513,626 units as fuel-efficient Japanese cars grew more popular on rising petrol prices, an industry body said on Thursday.

It was the 12th straight year-on-year rise, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association told Kyodo News. In July, exports were the highest in 18 years.

Exports to North America scored a steep rise of 35.1%. Those to Europe increased 8.2%.

Passenger car exports increased 24.8% to 453,914 units. Bus exports rose 13.3% to 8,110 units, but truck exports declined 7.0% to 51,602 units.

Backed by the robust exports, Japanese auto output in the month rose 8.2% to 977,856 units.

Auto production exceeded the year-before level for the ninth straight month.

The output comprised 822,257 passenger cars, up 8.4%, 148,171 trucks, up 7.6%, and 7,428 buses, up 0.4%, Kyodo News said.