The number of minivehicles owned in Japan surpassed 25m for the first time in June, making them one of every three vehicles in the country.

The Light Motor Vehicle Inspection Organisation told Kyodo News the number of minivehicles, defined as vehicles with engines of up to 660 cc, totalled 25,058,454 units as of 30 June, against the overall four-wheel vehicle ownership base of 75m units.

Minivehicle sales rose 5.2% to a record 2,023,619 units last year, a gain industry officials attributed partly to their more affordable pricing and the lower taxes on them. Their fuel efficiency also contributed to their popularity amid soaring petrol prices, they told the news agency.

One official reportedly said the number of minivehicles soared in 2006 ''because automakers took the wraps off a slew of new models and unleashed fully restyled models.''

Of the combined number of minivehicles owned in Japan, passenger cars accounted for 15,553,512 units. Vehicles with relatively large rear cargo spaces, used mainly for business purposes, came to 9,504,942 units.

In the minivehicle sector, vehicles for cargo transport had traditionally gained a larger user base than passenger cars. But the number of passenger cars had exceeded that of cargo vehicles for the first time as of 31 March, 2001.

Industry officials told Kyodo News passenger cars in the minivehicle category have been popular particularly among women and elderly people as they are easy to drive.

Such passenger cars have also become popular as many drivers have become conscious about fuel-efficiency and low maintenance costs after Japan's asset-inflated economic bubble burst in the early 1990s, they said.

The number of minivehicles owned in Japan surpassed 10m units in February 1985, 15m units in November 1990 and 20m in December 2000.

''Minivehicles tend to sell especially in smaller cities,'' an official at the Japan Mini Vehicles Association told Kyodo News, pointing out regional economies are still enmeshed in protracted sluggishness.

''Quite a few consumers have replaced their cars with minivehicles,'' the official added.