TOKYO - Japan's vehicle sales fell 2.1 percent in March, to 831,384, despite record sales of minivehicles - those with engines smaller than 660cc.
Minivehicle sales in March soared 25.4 percent over last year to an all-time high of 238,750, according to the Japan Mini Vehicles Association. That topped the previous high of 234,355 set in March 1997, just before Japan raised its consumption tax, a sort of national sales tax, from 3 percent to 5 percent.
Daihatsu Motor Co. led the mini charge with a 27.1 percent rise in its sales of minivehicles, to a record 64,580. Other makers with strong minivehicle sales, though short of setting records, included Suzuki Motor Co. up 24.0 percent; Honda Motor Co., up 32.8 percent, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., up 23.1 percent; and Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., up 23.2 percent.
In contrast to the blistering mini sales, all other segments remained mired in Japan's recession. Sales of non-mini passenger cars fell 7.6 percent; sales of non-mini light trucks dropped 18.9 percent. Sales of medium-and heavy-duty trucks slipped 2.8 percent; bus sales also declined 2.8 percent, the Japan Automobile Manu-facturers Association said.
Sales of imports dropped 3.9 percent, to 36,382, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association. Sales of reverse imports - Japanese vehicles built abroad and brought back into Japan - jumped 32 percent, led by models from Honda and Isuzu Motors Ltd. Sales of pure imports - made by non-Japanese manufacturers - dropped 7.4 percent.
The swing to minivehicles has hurt Japan's two largest makers, Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., which do not make minis.
Nissan's March sales dropped 16.2 percent, to 119,517. Toyota's March sales fell 6.2 percent, to 239,826.