Pushed down by the serious economic slump, domestic sales of new minivehicles dropped 4.1 percent to 1,551,330 units in calendar 1998, an industry group said on Friday.

However, sales of minicars, which are defined as automobiles with engines no larger than 660cc, increased for the first time in two years, up 3.3 percent to 947,366 units, thanks to the released of new models in the fall in accordance with revised size regulations, the Japan Minivehicles Association said.

The statistics also show that the brisk sales of mini cars helped put Honda Motor Co. at the No. 2 position in December in terms of monthly unit sales.

Honda’s sales reached 68,486 units in that month, while those of Nissan were 55,567, according to combined figures separately released by the Japan Automobile Dealers Association, Japan Minivehicles Association, and Japan Automobile Importers Association.

Overall automobile sales in 1998 totaled 5,886,648 units, down 12.5 percent from the previous year. This marks a fall below the 6 million level for the first time in 12 years.

While Honda retained the No. 2 position for the second consecutive month, industry leader Toyota Motor Corp. maintained top position with 112,529 units. For all of 1998, Toyota was also No. 1, with 1,711,081 units, followed by Nissan with 903,666 units and Honda with 690,275.

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