Japan automakers' May global sales drop 38% as lockdowns weigh

FILE PHOTO: Employees wearing protective face masks and face guards work on the automobile assembly line as the maker ramps up car production with new security and health measures as a step to resume full operations, during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Kawasaki factory of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., owned by Germany-based Daimler AG, in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, Japan May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese automakers’ global sales declined 38% in May, in the third straight month of big falls as most automotive factories and dealerships remained closed due to coronavirus lockdowns.

The country’s seven major automakers sold a total of 1.47 million vehicles last month, down sharply from 2.38 million units a year ago, according to Reuters calculations based on sales data released by these companies. But the decrease was smaller than the 50% tumble posted in April.

Global production at these automakers fell 62% to 918,974 units in May, compared to a production slump of 55% in April.

Car demand has plummeted globally since March as people were forced to stay indoors in most countries due to lockdowns to control the outbreak, leading to deep uncertainty about the longer-term economic impact.

Many countries have been easing their lockdown measures, but industry experts anticipate that it would take up to five years for demand to recover to 2019 levels.

Japan's biggest automaker Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T sold 609,460 vehicles in May, down 34% from a year ago. Nissan Motor Co's 7201.T sales fell 37.3% on year to 272,873 units, while sales at Honda Motor Co 7267.T slipped 29% to 327,000 units.

Vehicle sales fell in nearly all regions, with North America and Europe being the worst hit. China was the only bright spot, where Toyota, Nissan, and Mazda Motor Corp 7261.T reported higher sales.

Most automakers are preparing for a big financial hit from the pandemic due to the lockdowns in the United States and Europe. Toyota has said it expects an 80% profit slump this year, its lowest in nine years.

The pandemic has piled more pressure on Nissan, which had been struggling with falling sales and profitability even before the outbreak, forcing it to roll back on an aggressive expansion plan by ousted leader Carlos Ghosn.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Rashmi Aich