Japan’s new vehicle sales grew 5.4% to 362,839 units in December 2023 from 344,364 units a year earlier, according to registration data released by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

Sales continued to recover from the previous year’s supply chain bottlenecks, when acute shortages of semiconductors severely impacted vehicle output.

The economy shrank by 2.9% quarter on quarter in the third quarter, according to revised government data, reflecting falling capital expenditure, weakening exports and flat consumer spending. Growth in the fourth quarter was expected to come in stronger, helped by additional economic stimulus announced by the government in November in the form of residential tax cuts and grants to low-income households.

Sales last month were held back by a 13% drop in Daihatsu sales, after the company halted all deliveries on 20 December after it was found to have falsified safety test results during the new vehicle development process over 20 years. It was unclear when the automaker would return to the market.

Sales in January were also expected to be affected by temporary plant closures following the strong earthquake that hit Ishikawa prefecture on 1 January which affected some Toyota operations and a number of component suppliers in the region.

Last year the market expanded 14% to 4,779,086 units after declining 6% to 4,201,320 in 2022. Passenger vehicle sales rose 16% to 3,992,727 units while truck sales were 4% higher at 777,949. Sales of buses and coaches surged 53% to 8,410 units, as demand for travel continued to recover from the Covid lockdowns.

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Toyota sales increased 26% to 1,578,105 units in 2023 following severe supply chain shortages in the previous year; while Suzuki sales rose 8% to 650,567 units; Daihatsu 594,507 (+3%); Honda 594,285 (+5%); Nissan 480,673 (+7%); and Mazda 177,864 (+10%).

Toyota, Honda and Nissan in the last two months announced they were stepping up their investments to expand their battery electric vehicle (BEV) ranges worldwide to take on growing competition from other automakers particularly the Chinese.