Record Minivehicle Sales Power Japan Auto Growth

Japan’s auto sales growth for the month of August was powered mainly by record sales of tiny cars with engines of 0.66 liters or less, according to government data released Monday.

For the month of August minivehicle sales jumped 22.1% over the same month of 2011 to a record 138,405 units. Of those 110,779 were passenger minicars, representing a 30.9% jump over 2011.

In Japan minivehicles are defined as vehicles with maximum engine displacement of 660 cubic centimeters. By comparison, a Mercedes-Benz Smart Car and the smallest version of the Mini Cooper — the smallest passenger cars on US highways — has an engine displacement of 1,000 cc. The new Dodge Dart has a displacement of 1,400 cc (1.4 liters).

Sales of new vehicles, including minivehicles, in Japan rose 12.4 percent in August from a year earlier to 370,777 units for the 11th consecutive month of increase, driven in part by government subsidies for purchases of environmentally friendly vehicles, according to data released Monday by two auto industry bodies.

Excluding minivehicles, Japan’s new vehicle sales rose just 7.3% in August to 232,372 units. Of those, sales of passenger cars rose 8.7% to 205,012.

Overall Japan’s new vehicle sales grew 12.4% to 370,777 units in August, far less than the 37.5% jump posted in July, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association.

ThMuch of the recent sales gains is attributed to a government-sponsored cash-for-clunkers program which is set to expire in September. The Dealers Association expects sales to dip after the expiration.