The Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers' Association (VAMA) says it anticipates sales of its member companies to fall by 20 percent this year as a result of high registration tax and many other fees.

The association claims that the automobile market has frozen after the car ownership registration tax increased to 20 percent in January this year. The fees for getting a number plate has also increased to 20 million VND (950 USD).

Many other fees would apply in June as proposed by the Ministry of Transport.

GM Vietnam sold only 550 cars in January 2012, 50 percent of the sales in December 2011. Ford Vietnam sold 500 units the same month, as opposed to 1,100 in December. During the same period, Toyota Vietnam sold 1,520, a dramatic drop from 2,574.

On average, domestic automobile makers have seen sales dropping by 40-50 percent.

The sharp fall in the sales is a big worry for local carmakers, particularly as this trend looks to continue in the coming months.

Analysts have warned that 2012 would be another difficult year for a number of car makers as the economic doldrums forces people to cut down on their spending.

Meanwhile, many commercial banks have said they will restrict loans for car buyers, while others have said they will provide car loans at rates of up to 23 percent per year.

Akito Tachibana, General Director of Toyota Vietnam , said the economic downturn, the tightening of monetary policies and the Vietnamese dong/ US dollar rate fluctuation will also have negative impacts on the automobile market this year.

Several foreign invested automobile manufacturers have said if the sales are too slow, they would consider scaling down production and cutting down the labour force.

During the same period, the number of imported motorbikes decreased by nearly half in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, according to the General Statistics Office.

The office reported that the country spent 6 million USD importing 4,000 units in March, bringing the total import volume of the first three months to 13,000 units worth 21 million USD, down 47.7 percent in volume and 41.6 percent in value.

Imported motorbikes started a downward trend in October of last year when for the first time only 4,000 units worth 7 million USD were imported due to economic difficulties and fierce domestic competition. The imports plunged to 3,000 units worth 4 million USD in February, a one-year low record.

It is forecast that motorbike imports in the coming months would continue this decreasing trend, especially after the Government's road maintenance fund takes effect this June. Under the new regulation, every vehicle, including motorbikes, will have to pay annual road use fees.-VNA