After months of bad news for Toyota Motor Corp., the world's largest car manufacturer was celebrating one piece of good news on Tuesday after its Prius hybrid came in as Japan's top-selling vehicle in fiscal 2009.
The green-technology hatchback took the top spot on an annual basis for the first time, replacing Suzuki Motor Corp's compact WagonR minicar, which had held pole position for five straight years.
Sales of the Prius almost quadrupled in the fiscal year, which ended March 31, and totalled 277,485 units, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers' Association.
The WagonR came in second in 2009, selling 193,430 units, down 7.2 percent from the previous year, while Honda Motor Co.'s Fit - known in Europe as the Jazz - was third on the list with sales of 173,154 cars, up 13.8 percent.
The third generation of the Toyota Prius benefited from a government subsidy scheme to encourage people to buy environment-friendly technology, although minicars - designated as vehicles with engines of less than 660 cc - are also eligible for tax breaks and took four of the top 10 slots.
Results for Japan's domestic car manufacturers have been surprisingly positive in the last 12 months, according to government statistics, with sales of new vehicles increasing 10 percent to 3,182,073 units in 2009, the first annual upturn in seven years.
The government's measures to promote car sales are largely to thank for the improved figures, the industry said, while the sharp decline in 2008 due to the global economic crisis also made the most recent figures look better.
Toyota again emerged ahead of the pack on total annual sales, with an increase of 15.3 percent to 1,534,178 vehicles. Honda was in second with 503,891 units, up an impressive 28.8 percent.
The only sector of the auto industry that did not fare well in 2009 was imported cars, which slipped 7.8 percent to 183,677 units.
German cars fared best of all the imports, with Volkswagen retaining top spot for the 10th consecutive year with 40,664 units and just over 22 percent of the total market. BMW overtook Mercedes-Benz to claim second place, followed by Audi in fourth place.
Top 10 list:
1 - Toyota Prius
2 - Suzuki WagonR
3 - Honda Fit
4 - Daihatsu Move
5 - Daihatsu Tanto
6 - Toyota Vitz
7 - Toyota Passo
8 - Suzuki Alto
9 - Toyota Corolla
10 - Honda Insight