TOKYO - Japan's vehicle sales slump continued in May, with total sales down 7.4 percent to 397,124.
Sales have fallen for the last 14 straight months. The economic figures offer no encouragement that sales will rebound.
Unemployment in April hit a record 4.1 percent. If it were calculated the same way U.S. unemployment figures are tallied, Japan's jobless rate probably would have topped America's 4.3 percent.
New job offers in Japan were down 13 percent in April. Overtime hours in the manufacturing sector, traditionally a key component of discretionary income for consumers, continued a recent steady decline with a 17 percent fall in April.
'Consumer confidence is falling sharply,' said Fuyuki Fujiwara, auto analyst at Salomon Smith Barney Japan Ltd. 'This is confirmed not only in volume trends but also in mix,' he said.
Smaller, entry-level models continue to outperform the overall market.
Sales of passenger cars edged
up 1.6 percent to 192,337, according to the Japan Automobile Manu-facturers Associa-tion. But the gains came almost exclusively among lower-priced models. For example, sales of the Nissan Cube small wagon launched earlier this year totaled 10,685, accounting for almost one-quarter of Nissan Motor Corp.'s passenger-car sales.
Sales of minivehicles, those with engines under 660 cc, slipped 5.6 percent to 102,913, thus outperforming the overall market, the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said.
At the other end of the line, trucks sales were far worse. Sales of medium- and heavy-duty trucks tumbled 44.3 percent to 4,682, JAMA said.
Sales at Nissan Diesel Motors Ltd., in which Daimler-Benz AG of Germany is expected soon to take a majority stake, fell 44.5 percent to 1,047 in May.
Import sales fell 15.6 percent to 19,335, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said. Most of the drop, however, was a result of evaporating sales of so-called reimports, or Japanese cars built abroad.
Reimports fell 68.4 percent to 796, while so-called pure imports by foreign makers fell 9.1 percent to 18,539.