The stars are aligned to create record annual car sales in Australia by December 31, writes Mike Duffy.

Never before have GM affiliate Holden, Ford and Toyota all revised their major volume sellers - Commodore, Falcon and Camry - in the same year.

But all three will do just that - and over the next three consecutive weeks.

With year-to-date sales to the end of July standing at 476,748 units, the 2002 market looks certain to eclipse the record of 807,000 cars and commercials, set in 1998.

Of greater significance, sales so far this year are 6,128 units ahead of those in the first seven months of the record year.

The Big Three are currently engaged in a fierce marketing battle running out stocks of soon to be superseded models.

Then the sales war will really get serious as the three car giants throw millions of dollars at the marketplace to get the first important scores on the board.

Toyota and Ford have been drip-feeding information of their upcoming new cars and giving selected journalists advance test drives of the all-new Camry (built on the previous model's floorpan, unlike Japanese and US versions) and the BA Falcon.

Holden has been keeping its VY Commodore a well-guarded secret - at least until yesterday when official images were leaked to major media outlets.

But with only two weeks to go before the Commodore hits the market, Holden is not too fussed by the slip - even through the car maker is traditionally sensitive about news breaks outside its own strict timetable.

Massive research and development programmes and improvements to all three production lines underpin high expectations for the three cars.

And while major players refuse to accept the notion, a few reputations are said to hang on the success or failure of the three models.

The Holden Commodore is so far ahead of the Ford Falcon, the GM arm could produce a car with an odd number of wheels and still win the sales race for 2002.

Indeed, powerful fleet buyers who collectively decree which cars will be winners and which will be losers, are making nice profits from Commodore deals to offset losses on the failed AU Falcon.

Like others who like to back favourites, the big players are likely to support Commodore and sit back and watch the early performance of Falcon.

Camry sells mainly to four cylinder buyers and therefore is unaffected by the performance of the two big cars.

But the blowtorch is on Ford Australia which got it all wrong with the AU Falcon and failed to find a fix with its costly AUII revision.

The BA Falcon has been remodelled with styling 'shoulders' in an attempt to win back former faithful which left the Blue Oval in droves, citing the sloped-off styling of the former car.

Ford's new car has the brawn, but only time will tell whether buyers find it in their hearts and pockets to forgive and forget.

Ford Australia goes in to battle with the BA plus the imported European Focus to beef up sales and close the gap on the tearaway twosome Holden and Toyota.

Official car sales figures for the final quarter will make compulsive reading for industry analysts - and determine the future careers of those in positions of power at the three car makers.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Motors which has already done a value-added update on its Magna/Verada big car in anticipation of difficult times ahead, can only hang on to its diminishing share of the market as the big boys play for keeps.