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BIG 3 SALES RISE 45% IN JAPAN

The Big Three domestic automakers sold 10,603 vehicles in Japan last month, a 45 percent improvement over the same month a year ago, a trade group reports.

For the first quarter, Chrysler, General Motors and Ford sold 40,216 vehicles in Japan, up 40 percent from the same period of 1995, according to the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. Of those, 24,776 were built in the United States.Sales by the Big Three accounted for 1.6 percent of Japan's automotive market in the January-March period.

Of the 10,603 American vehicles sold in Japan in April, 6,547 were U.S.-built.

The Big Three expect to sell 300,000 vehicles in Japan annually by the end of the decade, in part because of the auto trade agreement signed in August by the United States and Japan, the association said.

The association is a lobbying arm of the Big Three.