Minivehicle sales in Japan in the first six months of 2000 rose 3 percent from a year before to 996,096, a record high for any half-year period, an industry body said Thursday.

It was also the second consecutive first-half gain, the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said.

Sales of passenger models rose 7.7 percent to 685,265 vehicles, but sales of commercial-use minivehicles dropped 6.1 percent to 310,831.

Minivehicles are defined as motor vehicles with an engine capacity of up to 660cc.

Sales at top maker Suzuki Motor Corp. rose 2 percent to 303,727 vehicles during the half-year period, followed by Daihatsu Motor Co., up 3.9 percent to 280,851. The figures were record half-year highs for both firms.

Honda Motor Co. placed third with sales of 152,219 vehicles, up 13.8 percent.

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. ranked fourth with sales of 146,134, down 0.8 percent, while Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. placed fifth with 86,301 vehicles sold, down 3.7 percent.

In June, minivehicle sales totaled 168,794, up 2 percent from a year earlier for the second straight month of gain.

June imports up 2.8%

June sales of imported motor vehicles in Japan rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier to 28,534 units, registering the second straight month of gain, an industry association said Thursday.

The figure consists of 26,307 foreign-brand vehicles, up 3.9 percent, and 2,227 Japanese-brand vehicles manufactured at overseas plants, down 8.7 percent, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said.

Accumulated sales from January to June came to 138,891 units, down 2.3 percent from the same period the previous year.

Half-year sales of foreign-brand vehicles edged up 0.8 percent to 127,586 units, while those of Japanese-brand vehicles plunged 27.3 percent to 11,305 units, the group said.

Volkswagen remained the top selling brand in the month with sales of 6,120 units, up 38.6 percent from a year earlier. Mercedes-Benz came second with sales of 5,540 units, down 4.6 percent, for a 19.42 percent market share, followed by BMW with 3,675 units, down 8.7 percent, for a 12.88 percent share.

Volvo ranked fourth with sales of 1,748 units, up 17.9 percent, for a 6.13 percent share.

Japanese automakers were not far behind, with Honda placing sixth with sales of 963 units, down 48 percent, giving it a 3.37 percent share, and Toyota seventh with 974 units, up 36.2 percent, for a 3.41 percent share.