TOKYO - A wave of new minicars and trucks drove Japan's vehicle production higher in October for the first time in 13 months, although the gain was only 0.8 percent.
Almost all of the increase, to 943,626 units, reflected higher output of mini cars, those with engines under 660cc. Output of minicars more than doubled from a year earlier, to 159,801 units.
The rise resulted from an Oct. 1 change in the regulations that allowed minicars to be slightly larger, while mandating that they meet tougher safety rules. In response, virtually all makers of minis launched new models.
The new models generally have sold well in an otherwise stagnant market.
The output gain compared to a 10.2 percent drop in Japan-market sales and a 7.9 percent fall in exports. Virtually every maker who builds minivehicles posted higher output in October; those who do not did not.
Output rose 58.3 percent at Daihatsu Motor Co., 41.8 percent at Suzuki Motor Co., 26.7 percent at Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (maker of Subaru cars) and 11.5 percent at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. Honda Motor Co.'s output slipped 3.7 percent, despite the launch of two new Honda minis.
Medium- and heavy-duty truck production overall fell 24 percent to 114,520, reflecting Japan's continued economic slump. Mini-trucks also remain weak. Production of minitrucks edged up 0.1 percent in October.
By some estimates, truck inventories are sufficient for the rest of the current fiscal year to March 31, 1999.