The Australian motor vehicle market has shrugged off an interest rate rise and rising petrol prices to post a record sales result in March.
According to official figures released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, 86,426 cars, trucks and buses were sold last month - 0.4 per cent up on the previous record set in March last year.
Industry statistician VFACTS says that at the end of the first quarter total motor vehicle sales are running ahead of last year's record first quarter by 10,280 vehicles or 4.5 per cent.
An all-time record 955,215 vehicles were sold last year and the FCAI has forecast another record total of 980,000 in 2005.
"It would have been reasonable to expect that the recent interest rate rise and the current record level of petrol prices might have taken some of the steam out of the market, however that doesn't appear to be the case," said the Chief Executive of the FCAI, Peter Sturrock.
"Having said that, any further rate rises or petrol price rises are likely to have an effect on sales - if not total volume then probably the type of motor vehicles which are purchased."
Holden was the top selling brand in March with 16,032 sales, ahead of Toyota (15,668), Ford (12,019) and a resurgent Mitsubishi with 6,730 sales.
Year to date, however, last year's top brand Toyota is still market leader with an 18.7 per cent share - a lead of 896 cars or 0.4 of a per cent over Holden. Ford is third with 13.6 per cent.
Mitsubishi's strong recovery continues with a 2,639 sales or 19.4 per cent increase for the quarter over the same period in 2004.
Leading importer Mazda also posted a major increase for the quarter when its sales jumped 3,764 or 27 per cent over its result for the first quarter last year.
Industry sales in the Small passenger car segment were up 12.9 per cent at the end of the first quarter compared to the same period last year. Medium car sales were up 12.2 per cent and Light cars were up 6.0 per cent.
These increases were balanced by a fall in the Large car segment of 10.3 per cent and the Luxury car segment of 12.7 percent.
"There are initial signs of a softening in demand for larger passenger cars in favour of the small and medium segments, perhaps in response to fuel and interest rate rises," said Peter Sturrock.
"In contrast it must be noted that sales of Sports Utility Vehicle - particularly those of family-sized SUVs - continue at record levels."
The SUV market is running at 6,491 vehicles or 16.2 per cent ahead for the year to date.
The SUV Medium segment accounts for most of that increase having grown by 47.5 per cent.
Mr Sturrock said that while the overall motor vehicle market remains at record levels, there were possible signs that softening business conditions were affecting sales of commercial vehicles.
At the end of the first quarter sales of Light Trucks were down 1,621 vehicles or 4.2 per cent.
Heavy Truck sales, however, remain robust, increasing by 729 vehicles or 12.5 per cent year-to-date.
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