Sales of imported vehicles in Japan, which includes Japanese cars shipped in from foreign plants, dropped 17.3% year on year in 2008 to a 15-year low of 219,231 units, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.

Imports peaked at 427,525 in 1996.

Sales of imported foreign-brand vehicles dropped 16.3% to 193,902 units while those of imported vehicles manufactured by Japanese automakers overseas fell 24.4% to 25,329 units, the association  told Kyodo News.

The financial crisis added to falling consumer confidence caused by soaring petrol prices, an association official said.

Relatively high-priced imported cars do not appeal to consumers cutting back on spending.

Sales of imported vehicles showed no signs of picking up soon, the official added.

Volkswagen was the top-selling foreign vehicle brand with a 20.76% share and 45,522 units, down 12.4% year on year.

Mercedes-Benz was second (16.88%; 37,002 units, down 21.0%), followed by BMW, (16.40%; 35,945; down 23.7%).

December imports plunged 30.2% to 18,913 units, the eighth consecutive monthly fall.

Sales of foreign-brand vehicles fell 30.5% to 17,446 units and those of Japanese-brand cars were off 27.4% to 1,467 units, Kyodo said.