TOYKO - New-vehicle sales in Japan rose in January for the first time in 22 months, thanks to strong sales of minivehicles - cars and trucks with 660cc engines. January sales totaled 364,633 units, up 3.3 percent from January 1998. Import sales also climbed.
Minivehicles sold briskly for the fourth straight month. Sales jumped 28.8 percent, to 123,122 units, a January record, the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said.
Minivehicle sales have been strong since September, when a wave of minicars entered the market to comply with revised government regulations on size and safety.
In addition, January brought the debut of several mini commercial vehicles, which, like the cars, are slightly larger than their predecessors.
Four of January's top five sellers, and six of the top 10, were minis. Their success pushed the Toyota Corolla down to fifth place in the standings. The Corolla was deposed as Japan's best-selling model in 1998 by the mini Suzuki Wagon R.
Meanwhile, sales of regular-sized cars slipped 1.5 percent, to 163,284 units, and sales of light trucks dropped 18.5 percent, to 56,845, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association said.
Sales of medium- and heavy-duty trucks slid 16.7 percent, the dealer association said.
Sales of minivans, excluding imports and true minivehicles, rose 18.9 percent, to 56,460 units. In contrast, sales of off-road four-wheel-drive vehicles, again excluding imports and minivehicles, fell 22.7 percent.
Import sales rose 3.0 percent, to 15,919 units, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association. That also was the first sales increase in 22 months.
Part of the gain was because of revived imports of Hondas built in the United States. As a result, sales of so-called reimports rose 37.7 percent, to 2,277 units. Sales of so-called pure imports eased 1.2 percent, to 13,642.
Again, manufacturers that build minis far outpaced those that do not. Sales of minicar specialist Suzuki Motor Co. jumped 17.1 percent, and Subaru minicars led Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. to a 13.6 percent sales gain. On the other hand, Nissan Motor Co. sales fell 7.1 percent.
In the weak truck sector, sales dropped 26.1 percent at Nissan Diesel Motor Co., 20.3 percent at Isuzu Motors Ltd. and 11.8 percent at Hino Motors Ltd.