New car sales showed relatively strong gains. Picture: Gallo Images
Overall vehicle sales registered modest gains in March, compared to the same period a year ago, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) said on Tuesday.
However, new car sales in particular showed relatively strong gains, it said in a statement.
Aggregate industry sales improved by 2552 units or 4.8 percent to 56,110 vehicles, compared to the 53,558 units sold in March last year.
For the time being, Mercedes-Benz SA (MBSA) would provide a single total sales number for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and export sales.
Excluding MBSA, 89 percent of vehicles were sold by dealers.
The government bought 4.9 percent of vehicles, the vehicle rental industry 3.1 percent, and industry corporate fleets three percent.
A total of 38,970 passenger cars were sold last month.
This is an increase of 10.8 percent compared to March 2011.
"First quarter 2012 new car sales reflected a robust performance and represented the highest quarterly level in five years," Naamsa said.
Car rental industry sales accounted for 3.8 percent of this total.
Commercial vehicle sales showed a decline compared to March 2011.
New light commercial vehicles, bakkies, and minibuses declined by 7.5 percent to 14,556 units.
Sales of vehicles in the medium and heavy truck segments declined to 2.3 percent and 2.7 percent respectively.
For the first quarter of 2012, commercial vehicle sales underperformed the growth in the new car market.
Exports of locally produced motor vehicles, including MBSA, fell sharply during the month, compared to March 2011.
Only 22,430 vehicles were exported during March, a 25.3 percent decline.
This was in large part due to a fall in exports by BMW, and the recession and debt crisis in the Eurozone, Naamsa said.
It expected export sales to improve in the months ahead, because of Ford and BMW's manufacturing programmes.
"The industry's export performance during 2012 would remain a function of the direction of the global economy," it said.
However, higher export volumes to African countries were anticipated.
Consumers' improved financial position, relatively low interest rates, continuing vehicle affordability, a competitive trading environment, and the introduction of new models would all support domestic vehicle sales.
Modest, single digit growth was expected for 2012, Naamsa said.
Increased energy and transport costs would affect consumers' disposable income, and record high fuel prices would reinforce a trend in favour of more fuel efficient cards.
Growth in consumer spending on durable goods would moderate.
"Based on these considerations, domestic sales were expected to continue to reflect growth, but at relatively subdued rates." -Sapa