The Toyota Prius hybrid was the best selling car in Japan last year, a position it has sat on for three years running. A total of 252,528 units of the Prius were sold in 2011, assisted by strong sales of the Prius Alpha, an MPV version of the car that debut in May.

It’ll take a brave man to bet against the Prius retaining the position this year. This is because the range is further strengthened by the Prius c variant, a smaller and more affordable Prius. The Prius c has been teased on UMW Toyota’s website, with full specs, and at the Avanza launch on Wednesday, bosses said it will be launched next month in Malaysia.

Honda’s Fit (we know it as Jazz) was the second best selling car with 207,882 units, up from fourth spot in the previous year’s rankings, while Suzuki’s Wagon R minicar was third with 160,439 units.

2011 was a difficult year for the industry in Japan, which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami in March, so total sales were down by 20%. Local production suffered, and imports took advantage – sales of foreign cars crossed the 10% mark for the first time ever last year.

Of the foreign brands, Volkswagen sold the most for the 12th straight year with 50,635 units, an increase of 8.4%. Other top foreign marques were BMW (34,195 cars, up 5.5%) and Mercedes-Benz.