TOKYO -- Auto sales in Japan sank to a 37-year low in January as worried consumers held off on big buys, an industry group said Monday.

Some 174,281 vehicles were sold for the month, a plunge of 27.9% from a year earlier and the biggest fall on record for January sales, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said.

Auto sales had been stagnant for years as younger Japanese lose interest in car ownership. But falling demand has worsened since last year's U.S. financial crisis.

The drop was the worst for January since the association began to keep such records in 1968, and the vehicles tally was the fewest since January 1972, when about 168,000 vehicles were sold, it said.

Last year, auto sales -- which include cars, trucks and buses -- slid to their lowest in 34 years at 3.21 million vehicles in Japan, down about 6% from 3.43 million in 2007, according to the association.

The Japan sales drop comes amid falling demand in the U.S. and other regions, which is ravaging the profits of Japanese automakers, including Toyota ( TM) and Honda ( HMC).

Unemployment has been rising in Japan, jumping to 4.4% in December from 3.9% in November. Consumers are cutting spending, especially on big ticket items like cars.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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