Japanese sales of new motor vehicles of over 660 cc fell to a 29-year low of 3,715,887 units in 2006 amid rising fuel prices, while those of minivehicles with smaller engines posted an increase for the third consecutive year, industry bodies told a news agency on Friday.

The sales volume of vehicles of over 660 cc was the lowest since 1977, when Japanese automakers sold 3,521,784 vehicles. It also marked a 5.4% decline from 2005 for the third consecutive yearly fall, the Japan Automobile Dealers Association told Kyodo News.

”Consumers appear to have preferred minivehicles to larger vehicles, as they provide better fuel economy,” an association official reportedly said, adding that many retiring baby boomer couples appear to have judged that minivehicles can satisfy their needs in view of their lifestyle, he said.

The Japan Mini Vehicles Association told Kyodo News separately that domestic sales of minivehicles with engines of up to 660 cc posted an all-time high of 2,023,619 units in 2006, up 5.2%, topping the 2m mark for the first time and setting a record for the third straight year.

Of total sales of vehicles of over 660 cc for 2006, passenger car sales dropped 6.8% to 3,134,134, the report said.

Sales of cars with engine displacements of over 2000 cc declined 3.6% to 1,225,867, with those with engines of over 600 cc to 2000 cc falling 8.7% to 1,908,267, Kyodo News added.

Truck sales rose 2.7% to 564,153 units but bus sales fell 0.9% to 17,600, the report said.

All five five major automakers saw sales fall, with Nissan hit hardest with a 16.8% drop, the association told Kyodo News.

The news agency noted that the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association forecasts that domestic sales of vehicles of over 660 cc will this year fall further to about 3,635,000 units, down about 80,000 units from 2006 while the minivehicles association projects that sales will drop 3.1% to about 1,960,000 units in 2007 as manufacturers plan to introduce a smaller number of fully redesigned vehicles.