Sales of imported vehicles in Japan slipped 8.3% in September from the same month a year ago as customers continued to tighten their purse strings, despite some signs of an economic upturn, an industry group said on Monday, according to Associated Press (AP).

A total of 27,351 imported vehicles were sold last month - 27,046 passenger cars, 301 trucks and four buses, the Japan Automobile Importers Association said, according to AP, which noted that in September 2002, importers sold 29,829 vehicles.

AP said September was the sixth straight month that sales of imported vehicles fell, including a 13.3% drop in August, July's 1.9% slip and June's 6.7% fall.

In the latest month reported, foreign vehicle imports fell 8.2% to 27,678 units, while sales of similar Japanese models, produced in plants outside Japan, declined 9.4% to 1,948 from a year ago, Associated Press said.

AP noted that signs Japan's economy is pulling out of a more than a decade-long slump have driven up the yen lately and, while a stronger yen makes imports cheaper, association officials told it that customers have avoided buying big-ticket items, such as foreign brand cars, with some waiting for the release of new models in coming months.

Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen and BMW held the top three spots among foreign companies in the Japanese market, AP said, adding that Mercedes Benz was the top foreign car maker, accounting for about 21.5% of imports with 5,877 vehicles, but down 16.4% from September last year.

Volkswagen was second with 18.08% of the market, up 0.8% after selling 4,946 vehicles, while BMW sold 3,814 vehicles for 13.94 percent of the market, the report added.

Among US brands, Chrysler was the top-seller at 621 vehicles, down 6.1%, and has 2.27% of the Japanese market, Associated Press said.