Photo/Illutration The Asahi Shimbun

New car sales in 2022 fell to their lowest level since 1977 mainly due to a protracted shortage of semiconductors that delayed production, according to auto industry organizations.

The data also shows the number of Japanese cars sold in the United States last year was lower than the previous year and still a far cry from pre-pandemic levels.

The Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Mini Vehicle Association published statistics on Jan. 5 for 2022 that revealed the extent of the sales slump.

The statistics show that 4,201,321 new cars were sold domestically, down 5.6 percent from the previous year.

The figure marks the fourth consecutive year of decline, plummeting to the lowest level since 1977, when automakers sold around 4.19 million new cars.

While the situation improved somewhat as the year went on, the worst part is there is no light at the end of the tunnel yet. 

“It’s not clear how long the semiconductor shortage will continue to impact (the car industry),” said an official from the Japan Mini Vehicle Association.

Sales of minivehicles fell for the fourth year in a row, accounting for 1,638,137 of all the new cars sold last year--0.9 percent less than the previous year.

The number of cars sold excluding minivehicles was 2,563,184 in 2022, down 8.3 percent year-on-year, marking the fifth straight year of decline.

That is its lowest point since 1968, the year statistics for new car sales started.

In 1968, that number was around 2.29 million.

The monthly breakdown shows that car makers sold fewer new cars between January and August in 2022 than in each individual month the year prior.

Much of the pain can be attributed to the ongoing semiconductor shortage, which crippled sales and forced automakers to stop accepting orders.

Nissan Motor Co. stopped taking orders at the end of October for its Sakura electric minivehicle, which it had only launched in June.

The chip shortage has also delayed deliveries of new cars.

It took Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. more than half a year to deliver some of their car models.

But the data shows sales improved in the second half of 2022.

Automakers sold 344,365 new cars in December, 2.4 percent more than the previous December.

It marked the fourth straight month of increase.

Experts said automakers have been able to offset the sales decline with benefits gained by the weaker yen.

But the yen has been unexpectedly strengthening in recent days.

The experts point out that how quickly car makers can normalize production in this environment will be key to their performances in the short term.