PASSENGER MINIS SKYROCKET

Minicar sales up 14.9% to set record

Domestic sales of new minivehicles in fiscal 1999 rose 14.9 percent from the previous year to 1,908,700 units, marking a record high for a fiscal year and the second consecutive year of growth, the Japan Minivehicles Association said Thursday.

By category, passenger minicar sales rose for a second year in a row by surging 21.7 percent from a year earlier to 1,275,752 units, also a record high for a single fiscal year.

Minivehicles for commercial purposes rose 3.3 percent to 632,948 units for their first increase in five years, the association said.

Association officials attributed the sales rises to the lower prices for minivehicles as compared with larger cars.

Minivehicles include motor vehicles with engine displacement of up to 660cc.

In March alone, new minivehicle sales rose 6.9 percent from the previous year to 255,134 units, up a fourth consecutive month and a new record high for March, the association said.

Passenger minicar sales jumped 13.3 percent to 177,074 units to rise for the third consecutive month, but minivehicles for commercial purposes declined 5.3 percent to 78,060 units, the third monthly drop in a row.

By maker, Suzuki Motor Corp., Daihatsu Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. recorded the highest sales for March.

Import auto sales down

Sales of imported automobiles in fiscal 1999, which ended March 31, edged down 0.3 percent from a year earlier to 274,708 units, the third consecutive year of decline, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said Thursday.

Sales of imported cars made by foreign automakers rose 1.3 percent to 252,870 units, the first increase in three years. However, sales of imported vehicles manufactured in Japanese automakers’ overseas plants fell 15.8 percent to 21,838 units, the fourth consecutive year of decline, the association said.

The most popular imported cars sold in fiscal 1999 were Mercedes-Benz models, with 51,346. Next were Volkswagen, which sold 50,531 units, and BMW, with 36,099.

In March alone, sales of imported automobiles dropped 3.9 percent from the previous year to 34,958 units, down for the third consecutive month, the association said.

Imported cars made by foreign makers rose 1.4 percent to 32,318 units, while imported vehicles made overseas by Japanese carmakers fell 41.5 percent to 2,640 units.

Ontario to output Lexus

CAMBRIDGE, Ontario (Kyodo) Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday that it will start assembling the Lexus RX300 sport utility vehicle, one of its best-selling cars, at its plant here in fall 2003.

Canadian Industry Minister John Manley, who was present for the announcement, welcomed the plan, which will bring an additional investment of about $448 million and 300 more jobs to the plant, run by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada Inc.

Toshiaki Taguchi, president of New York-based Toyota Motor North America Inc., said Toyota plans to increase annual capacity at the Cambridge plant to 220,000 units from the current 200,000 through the investment.

About 60,000 Lexus cars will be produced at the plant each year, he said. They will be the first Lexus models produced outside Japan.

By the time the Canadian plant starts assembling Lexus cars, production of the Camry Solara and Sienna minivan will be moved from the Canadian plant to the automaker’s U.S. plants in Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, Taguchi said.

The moves are to realize Toyota’s strategy announced last December to increase its output capacity in North America from the current 1.25 million vehicles to 1.45 million by 2003, Taguchi said.

Toyota Motor North America is responsible for the Japanese automaker’s North American operations.