Domestic sales in Japan of new motor vehicles, excluding minivehicles, dropped 3.4% in October from the year before to 281,452 units, a 34-year low for the month and the fourth consecutive monthly fall, an industry body said on Tuesday.

It was the first time for October sales to sink below 290,000 units since 1971, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association told Kyodo News.

''This figure was unexpected, especially because we had expected the Tokyo Motor Show to cause a year-on-year sales rise,'' an association official said.

''It hangs in the balance whether dealers will be able to bring this year's sales above the 3.96 million units they sold in all of 2004,'' the official said.

By type, sales of passenger cars with engine displacements of 2,000 cc or more in the reporting month slipped 7.6% to 86,538 units, the association said.

In addition, sales of smaller passenger cars with engines of over 600 cc to 2,000 cc - a crucial vehicle segment for Japanese dealers - fell 3.5% to 152,509 units.

Sales of trucks rose 6.4% to 41,270 units and those of buses soared 31.8% to 1,135 units.

According to Kyodo News, association officials attributed the sluggish performance in October to higher petrol prices as well as the dissipation of the boost to sales given by the release of a string of new models in the latter half of 2004.