Vehicle sales in Japan posted solid gains in the first six months of the year, helped by launches of new models and a gathering economic recovery, an industry body said on Monday.

Analysts said the figures, which exclude 660 cc minivehicles, confirmed a gradual recovery in the domestic industry and should pave the way for the first annual rise in car sales in three years.
June sales rose 8.5 percent from a year earlier to 375,679 vehicles, the Japan Automobile Dealers’ Association (JADA) said, bringing January-June sales to 2.11 million units, up 2.0 percent from the same period last year.

JADA said it was the first year-on-year rise in the January-June period for three years.

“Domestic vehicle sales are recovering satisfactorily, helped by launches of new models,” Seiji Sugiura, auto analyst at Nomura Securities told Reuters.

“Strong sales of trucks reflected a solid recovery in domestic economy,” he added.

June sales of luxury cars with engines over 2000cc rose a steep 18.6 percent to 73,648. The gain reflected higher sales of new models such as Toyota’s Crown and Nissan’s Cedric and Gloria, Sugiura said.
Sales of trucks rose 15 percent from a year earlier to 102,986 units in June, including 8,201 heavy trucks, up 26.2 percent.

“In the compact and subcompact segment, only Toyota’s Vitz and its sister models have been marking big gains constantly, but in latter half of this year, other makers like Nissan, Mitsubishi, Honda and Mazda will launch new models in this segment,” Sugiura said.
He said these new models were likely to prompt further strong gains in sales for the rest of the year, predicting an eight percent rise from a year earlier to 4.30 million units in the year to March 2001.
Japan’s domestic vehicle sales fell 5.5 percent from a year earlier to 3.98 million units in 1999/2000, down for the third straight year, industry data showed.

Daiwa Institute of Research analyst Masato Ogasawara said Japan’s domestic vehicle sales are likely to rise to 4.2 million vehicles in 2000/01, helped by healthy demand, falling car prices, an economic recovery and the launch of new models. Analysts had no forecasts on a calendar year basis.

In December, the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) forecast Japan’s car sales of 4.25 million units for calendar 2000, up from an actual 3.99 million in 1999.