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With prices way up, Japanese buying fewer cars

Soaring costs over past decade put down to safety enhancements

Nissan released a remodeled Note hatchback in November.

TOKYO -- Prices for passenger cars are on the rise in Japan, mainly due to costly safety devises, such as automatic brakes, as well as batteries for hybrid cars.

Prices tend to go up when old models get updated. Nissan Motor partially remodeled its Note for the first time in four years; the small car was released last month. The Note X goes for 1.49 million yen ($12,921), up 15% from four years ago. The hybrid model is even more expensive, starting at 1.77 million yen.

Subaru maker Fuji Heavy Industries raised the starting price of its new Impreza, released in October, by about 20%, to 1.92 million yen from about 1.6 million yen.

Toyota Motor fully remodeled its Prius at the end of last year, boosting the hybrid's capacity by adopting lithium-ion batteries and improving its fuel economy by 20%. The upgrades were reflected in a 20% or so price hike. The base model now goes for about 2.42 million yen, up from 2.05 million yen for the previous model, released in 2009.

According to a retail price survey conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, the average price of top-selling cars with engine displacements of 1.5 liters or less is 2.01 million yen, up 18% from a decade ago. Prices of cars with 1.5- to 2-liter engines have risen further, to an average of 3.19 million yen, about 50% higher than a decade ago. Prices for compacts have risen about 30%.

New car sales in Japan remain sluggish, dragged down by a decline in minicar sales. New car sales in 2015 marked the first year-on-year decline in four years. Sales have taken a 2.2% year-on-year slide in the January-November period.


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