TOKYO - Japan's new-vehicle sales in February eked out a 0.6 percent gain from a year earlier to 536,409 units, the fifth consecutive monthly increase.
Strong demand for small cars, light trucks and medium and heavy trucks in the month offset declining sales of regular-sized cars, minivehicles and imports.
The results encouraged the Japan Automobile Dealers Association to forecast that Japanese vehicle sales - excluding minivehicles - will grow 2.6 percent to 4.2 million units in 2001.
'I can't say this shows the economy is recovering, but I'm sure the truck market already has hit bottom,' said Takeshi Irisawa, an analyst at Marusan Securities Co.
In February, sales of light trucks, excluding imports, rose 6.6 percent; medium and heavy trucks sales rose 3.4 percent.
Meanwhile, sales of minivehicles - cars and trucks with 660cc or smaller engines - declined 3.3 percent to 164,927 units, the eighth consecutive drop.
That compares with a peak of 255,135 set in March 2000. Still, minivehicles account for about 30 percent of all sales in Japan.
Last month's gainers included Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co.
Among the losers were Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and Mazda Motor Corp.
Mitsubishi's sales continued to slide on a lingering consumer backlash to revelations that it covered up information that would have led to recalls.
Its sales fell 3.9 percent in August, 18.2 percent in September, 20 percent in October, 24.7 percent in November, 4.5 percent in December, 10.1 percent in January and were off 8.2 percent last month.
Sales of foreign passenger cars changed little last month, at 19,824.
DaimlerChrysler sales jumped 21.8 percent, with both Mercedes and Chrysler up, and Volkswagen brand was up 21.3 percent.
But General Motors plunged 33.4 percent to 1,700, and Ford Motor Co. was off 26.4 percent to 1,690.