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Toyota, Mitsubishi Lead Japan's June Auto Sales Gain
July 1 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. led a 2.6 percent gain in Japan's auto sales in June as new model releases spurred demand for vehicles, rising from levels analysts said were historical lows last year.
Sales of cars, trucks and buses, excluding minivehicles, by Japan's 12 automakers rose to 342,697 units last month, according to the Tokyo-based Japan Automobile Dealers Association. Toyota, Japan's biggest automaker, raised sales 6.2 percent to 149,321 units, and Mitsubishi Motors, No. 4 in Japan, sold 20,753 autos, 64 percent more than a year earlier.
Automakers are drawing more customers by releasing new minivans such as Toyota's Wish and Mitsubishi's Grandis after a flurry of new compact cars in 2002. Japanese buyers, concerned about the country's economic slump, are choosing the value for money, space and fuel-efficiency offered by minivans, which make up about a third of the domestic auto market, and compacts.
``Even though the number of vehicles sold this year may fall as compact models get older, we may see an improvement in the automakers' domestic earnings as they release more minivans which have higher profit margins than compacts,'' said Akihide Kinugawa, who helps manage the equivalent of about $172 million at T&D Asset Management Co. in Tokyo, including auto shares.
Toyota shares rose 0.3 percent to close at 3,120 yen in Tokyo, while Mitsubishi Motors gained 3 percent to 279 yen.
Nissan Motor Co., Japan's third-largest automaker, sold 64,003 units, 1.6 percent more than in June last year. Nissan has been regaining ground lost in the 1990s with new models such as the Elgrand minivan and the Fairlady Z sports car.
Nissan's success comes at the expense of rival Honda Motor Co., whose sales last month slumped 35 percent to 35,214 units. The figure is Honda's sixth straight monthly decline and the worst sales in June since 1995, as its Fit compact and minivan line-up age.
Passenger car sales rose 0.2 percent to 265,798 units, with sales of cars with engines of 2 liters and smaller falling 2.9 percent to 200,667 units, the second month of declines, and cars with larger engines rising 11 percent to 65,131 units.
Toyota plans to introduce 11 new and revamped models in Japan this year in an effort to raise its domestic market share 0.7 points to 43 percent.
Toyota, based in Japan's Aichi Prefecture, released its Wish minivan and Raum compact this year, and is also releasing a cleaner version of its Prius hybrid globally later this year.
Mitsubishi Motors is increasing sales after almost two years with no new models in its home market. The company released its Colt compact last November and is beefing up sales with the Grandis minivan, released in May.
Mitsubishi Motors suffered from a lack of investment in product development before DaimlerChrysler AG bought a 37 percent stake in the Japanese automaker, whose image had been tarnished by a 2 million-unit recall in 2000 and 2001. The company's passenger car division hasn't made a profit at home since the year ended March 1996.
``We are still lacking more new products in other segments,'' Rolf Eckrodt told investors at the annual shareholders' meeting last month. ``In Japan, we're facing very strong competition. We have to gain customers from the competition, so the Japanese market will continue to be a challenge for us.''
Mazda Motor Corp., Japan's fifth-largest automaker, boosted sales 17 percent to 18,664 units in June, helped by the release of its RX-8 sports car. Mazda shares rose 1.4 percent to 296 yen.
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