Japanese sales of new vehicles, excluding minivehicles, fell to a 34-year low of 3,212,342 units in 2008 – nearly half of the 1990 peak.

Sales – the lowest since 1974 in the aftermath of the first oil shock – fell for the fifth year in a row, by 6.5%, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association told Kyodo News.

The 2008 figure was down about 46% from 1990’s 5.98m units.

”Amid the type of economic crisis that occurs once in a century, consumer sentiment cooled rapidly and that hit auto sales,” association director Takeshi Fushimi said. ”This is worse than we had expected.”

Fushimi told the news agency wealthy people continued to postpone purchasing cars as the value of their share and foreign currency investments tumbled due to last year’s financial market meltdown, while more young people lost interest in buying cars amid stagnant wage growth.

The lack of young buyers’ interest in cars has caused increasing concern at Japanese automakers in recent years. Young people cite ownership costs and other issues, such as parking, as buying barriers while automakers have responded with models specifically aimed at younger consumers, offered in attractive fashionable colours, with additional cabin storage space and MP3 player-compatible music systems.

The decline in domestic vehicle sales became steeper toward the end of 2008, with sales in December alone diving 22.3% from a year earlier to 183,549 units, Kyodo News said.

It was the first time that domestic sales of new vehicles over 660 cc in December had fallen below the 200,000 mark since the body started compiling data in 1968, Jada said.

In 2008, sales of minivehicles under 660 cc fell 2.6% to 1,869,893 units for the second consecutive year of decline, according to the Japan Mini Vehicles Association.

For 2009, the association said it expected new minivehicle sales to fall 1.6% from 2008 to 1.84m units.

In December alone, minivehicle sales dropped 6.7% to 122,770 units, it added.

By car type, excluding minivehicles, passenger car sales for 2008 fell 5.2% to 2,800,664 units.

Truck sales dropped 14.8% to 396,345 units, while bus sales slipped 1.8% to 15,333 units, Kyodo said.