Domestic sales of new motor vehicles excluding minivehicles from January to June totaled 1.99 million units, marking the first time in 23 years that first-half sales have failed to break 2 million, an industry body said Monday.

The figure represented a 3.8 percent year-on-year fall, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

But the Japan Mini Vehicles Association said sales of vehicles with engines of up to 660cc came to a record 1.07 million units, breaking the all-time high for the first half for a third consecutive time.

The first-half number itself is 4.7 percent higher than the previous year’s, the minicar association said.

Minivehicles accounted for 35 percent of new automobiles sold during the half, meaning more than one out of every three new vehicles sold in the period was a minivehicle.

Industry officials said the statistics show consumers are defecting in greater numbers to minivehicles as crude oil costs continue to set all-time highs.

Projections show minivehicle sales for the whole of 2006 are likely to break the 2 million threshold for the first time, the officials said.

As for cars with engines larger than 660cc, sales at Nissan Motor Co. dived 18.3 percent in the half to 300,260 units, with Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. selling 173,970 units, down 8.1 percent, and 767,643 units, down 0.8 percent, respectively.

But sales at ailing Mitsubishi Motors Corp., still suffering from a massive defect coverup scandal, expanded 6.1 percent, the association said.

In June alone, sales of motor vehicles excluding minivehicles fell 6.5 percent from the year before to 328,376 units, extending their year-on-year losing streak for the 12th consecutive month, it said.

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