According to Mini Vehicle Association figures released on Thursday, Japanese consumers' love affair with the minicar, which accounts for about one-third of the domestic market, is declining.

However, the car industry as a whole, which has been hit by the slump in consumer spending amid Japan's economic depression, is showing signs of recovery. Industry wide car sales, including mini-vehicles, rose 6.4 per cent on the year.

Sales of minicars (vehicles with engine capacity up to 660cc) rose 2 per cent in June year on year, far below the double-digit growth rates registered after the government introduced new safety standards in October 1998 that led to carmakers launching new models.