TOKYO - Japan's new-vehicle sales in February rose 2.9 percent over a year earlier to 533,396 units, the third increase in four months.
Sales of minivehicles, which are cars and trucks with engines smaller than 660cc, rose 5.8 percent to 170,567. That was a record for February.
Unlike most of 1999, though, minivehicles were not the only good sellers.
Sales of large cars, which have outpaced the overall market recently by rising in five of the last six months, jumped 12.3 percent to 67,266.
Especially strong sales for two newly launched full-sized vehicles fueled hope that Japan's car market is recovering.
The Toyota bB (pronounced 'bee-bee') drew 26,000 orders in its first month on the market compared with a monthly sales target of 4,000. That left Toyota with three months of back orders for the boxy subcompact.
Meanwhile, the Mitsubishi Dion drew 10,000 orders against a monthly sales target of 4,500. The six-seat minivan is the latest in Mitsubishi's 'smart utility wagon' series.
Extra selling day
The overall gain was helped by an extra selling day, Feb. 29. Chris Richter, auto analyst at HSBC Securities Japan Ltd. in Tokyo, said that without the leap day, the market would have been down 0.7 percent, or 'basically flat with last year.'
Other market segments remained weak, however. Sales of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, which closely track underlying economic performance, fell 11.7 percent to 5,543.
In addition, import sales dropped 6.7 percent to 21,282. The total was pulled lower by a 44.2 percent fall, to 1,494, in sales of so-called reverse imports, which are Japanese cars built abroad and imported back to Japan.
Among individual makers, Mazda Motor Corp. stood out with a 12.4 percent sales gain, to 27,320.
Sales at market giant Toyota Motor Corp. rose 6.0 percent to 161,070. Including its Daihatsu Motor Co. affiliate, Toyota Group sales also rose 6.0 percent, to 210,838.
Sales dropped 4.4 percent to 52,838 at Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and 1.2 percent to 73,135 at Nissan Motor Co. Mitsubishi was pulled lower by a 10.6 percent drop in sales of medium- and heavy-duty trucks, to 1,563.
Among importers, Volkswagen-brand sales rose 17.2 percent to 4,648, thus topping sales of Mercedes-Benz cars for the first time in three months. Mercedes' sales slid 25.1 percent to 3,437.
VW Group sales rose 18.8 percent to 5,231, while DaimlerChrysler sales declined 19.6 percent to 4,121.