March imported vehicle sales in Japan rose 3.9 percent from a year ago, due to an aggressive campaign of low-interest loans and discounts, Associated Press reported, citing figures from the Japan Automobile Importers Association.

Passenger cars, trucks and buses accounted for 36,315 sales in March, compared with 34,958 units in March 2000, the report said.

The March figure included imported vehicles that were produced overseas by Japanese automakers – mainly in the U.S. and U.K. – and followed a 1.1 percent fall in February and a 2.7 percent rise in January.

JAIA spokesman Yasuhiko Yokota told AP that sales of foreign vehicles are usually brisk in March, the last month of Japan’s fiscal year, because importers offer special loans and discount prices on superseded models and old stock.

Japan’s economy is going through its worst slump in decades and Yokota added that it was unclear if sales would continue to rise, given the poor outlook.

AP said that Volkswagen was Japan’s most popular import marque in March taking a 24.5 percent slice of the segment. VW sold 8,896 vehicles in March, up 7.8 percent from the previous year.

Mercedes-Benz was second with sales of 6,546 cars, a rise of 17.5 percent over March 2000.

Chrysler was the top-selling American brand but ranked only seventh overall, AP said. Year on year sales nosedived 6.9 percent to 970 vehicles in March and it managed a market share of just 2.67 percent.

Imported Honda car sales plunged 58.5 percent in March to 709 vehicles, AP added.

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