Honda Motor sales in Japan rose for the first time in more than a year in October, Dow Jones Newswires said, noting that the result was a promising sign for the car maker which has fared well so far this year in the US market but lagged behind rivals at home.

Honda, Japan's third-biggest car maker, reportedly said on Wednesday its domestic car sales rose 4.1% year on year to 66,127 vehicles, the first rise since September 2002, boosted by strong sales of mini-vehicles.

Dow Jones said other Japanese car makers also reported steady domestic sales for the same month the country's top car maker, Toyota Motor, reportedly said its sales rose for the second straight month, increasing 0.1% to 149,846 vehicles.

Second biggest Nissan Motor said its October sales in Japan were up 6.2% from a year earlier at 60,553 vehicles thanks mainly to its popular Cube Cubic compact minivan, Dow Jones said.

Mazda Motor reportedly said its domestic sales increased 5.5% to 20,632 vehicles in October - the first rise in three months.

However, Dow Jones noted, Mitsubishi Motors' domestic sales fell 3.6% to 21, 878 vehicles, marking the first fall in two months.

Dow Jones said that Honda's stronger performance in October suggests the car maker might be past the worst of its slump in its home market.

The company's sales had fallen sharply in the past year due to a lack of new models on offer, and strong competition from Toyota and other rivals that stepped up efforts to penetrate the minivan market, where Honda is relatively strong, the report added, noting that, in late October, Honda slashed its unit sales target for the Japanese market for the current fiscal year ending March 2004 to 765,000 vehicles from 815,000 vehicles, reflecting its setback at home.

Dow Jones said the Life mini-car model that Honda launched in September helped bolster sales in October, however, while unit sales of mini-vehicles (vehicles with engine capacities of 660 cubic centimetres) soared 68.5% year on year to 31,406 in October.

Industry observers expect the upturn in Honda's domestic sales to continue for the time being as the company has recently become more aggressive in launching new models, the news agency said.

Dow Jones noted that Honda president Takeo Fukui predicted last month that his company's prospects at home would turn for the better in October thanks to the Life mini-car and the partly redesigned Step Wagon minivan.

He also said he hoped domestic sales would keep picking up in Japan, lifted by demand for the new Odyssey minivan that Honda launched last month, Dow Jones added.