October sales slip 3.1% in Japan; only minis rise

TOKYO - New-vehicle sales in Japan dropped 3.1 percent in October from a year earlier. All segments except minivehicles were down amid a dim outlook for the Japanese economy.

Sales of cars fell 5.3 percent, while light trucks slid 13.3 percent and medium and heavy trucks shrank 7.6 percent. Sales of minivehicles - cars and trucks with engines smaller than 660cc - gained 6.4 percent.

Japan's new-vehicle sales could remain under pressure from the shaky condition of the economy. Japan's unemployment was a record 5.3 percent in September. That could force consumers to tighten their purse strings, even though many will receive a biannual bonus in December.

"Individual savings stand at three times GDP (gross domestic product), but people aren't spending. That is distorting the Japanese economy," said Takashi Imai, president of Japan's Federation of Economic Organizations, or Keidanren, Japan's largest business grouping.

He said it was "unavoidable" that Japan's economy would shrink in the fiscal year ending March 31. But he added that he hoped the economy would begin to expand in the second half of next year.

Sales declined 8.2 percent at Toyota Motor Corp. The number swells to 9.3 percent once Toyota subsidiary Daihatsu Motor Co. is included.

Though Toyota's profit surged 82 percent in the first half of its fiscal year to $2.4 billion, the automaker has lowered its sales forecast for the Japanese market for the current fiscal year twice in the past six months.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s sales rose 16.5 percent, its first increase since July 2000, pushed higher by the new eK Wagon. Launched Oct. 11, the minivehicle sold 13,592 to finish fifth on Japan's list of top-10 sellers.

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