The country spent more than 1 billion USD on importing 55,000 new cars in 2011, despite economic difficulties, estimated the General Statistics Office (GSO).

The figures were up 2.1 percent in volume and 4.2 percent in value against the previous year.

The last month of the year saw 4,000 units worth 64 million USD imported, up on the previous month when 3,000 units totalling 52 million USD were bought into the country.

The GSO said that the car market was quieter than in previous years and the usual surge in sales ahead of the Lunar New Year had was.

Industry insiders said that 2011 has been a tough year because the Government issued a series of measures and increased tax on imported cars in a move to restrict imports and curb the national trade deficit.

They added that the tax hike has added thousands of dollars to the cost of each imported car, leading to the year-end slump.

In June, the General Department of Customs set higher minimum tax brackets for hundreds of imported car models. Tax on both new and used cars rose between 2 and 20 percent compared to the end of 2010.

In the same month, the Ministry of Industry and Trade issued Circular 20 which required automobile importers to fulfil extensive procedures to trade vehicles with under 10 seats. These restrictive procedures included a letter of attorney from manufacturers, contracts legalised by Vietnamese diplomatic offices overseas and auto maintenance certificates granted by the Ministry of Transport.

Import taxes on used cars have also been raised since August. Under the new regulations, used cars with engines of 1.5 litres or more are subject to the same tax rates as new cars of the same model, which range between 77 percent and 83 percent of their total value. An additional 5,000 USD to 15,000 USD levy is also imposed on used cars, depending on their engine capacity. Previously, used cars were only subject to a fixed import duty, starting at 3,500 USD per car. /.