Australia's car industry is on track to smash the record set in 1998, writes Mike Duffy.

Sales of cars and commercials for the first four months of the year reached 255,062 units - 12,415 more than the record year and 18,804 more than last year.

The buoyant market prompted the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries to adjust upwards its estimate for 2002 by 20,000 units to 800,000 vehicles.

The record was set in 1998 when 807,669 cars and light commercials were retailed.

With second-half sales traditionally stronger than the first, the year is strongly tipped to see a new record set.

The chamber's monthly VFACTS audit of vehicle sales showed 63,886 cars and light commercials were bought in April - 11.5% or 6,581 units more than the same month last year.

Holden was the market leader for the 16th consecutive month, booking its best April sales since 1975.

General Motors' Down Under affiliate claimed 22.6% of the national vehicle market with 14,468 sales. Toyota came in second with 18% of the market, ahead of third-placed Ford with 12.3%. Mitsubishi Motors had a poor result claiming only 7.2% market share.

In year-to-date calculations, Holden is well ahead with 56,737 sales for 22.2% of the market - 10,019 vehicles ahead of Toyota on 18.3% and 24,247 vehicles in advance of Ford. Mitsubishi is in fourth place with 20,398 sales for 8%.

The Holden Commodore is the best selling vehicle of the year so far with 26,783 registrations, compared with 14,492 Ford Falcons.

Holden executive director of sales and marketing Ross McKenzie said the company was looking to make up the five production days lost during the recent strike at Walker Australia exhaust systems.

He said the April sales result was unaffected by the dispute and the full effects of lost production may not be known for several months.

"We are analysing the requirements of our domestic and export commitments and discussing ways to secure extra production in a bid to minimise disruption to our customers," he said.

FCAI chief executive Peter Sturrock said signs of increased customer demand had been building for the past four months and demand was now strong across all sectors.

"The mood of the business community is positive and FCAI members report strong fleet and commercial activity," he said. "This gives us great confidence for the rest of the year."

Australian top 10 manufacturers in April:

1 Holden 14,468; 2 Toyota 11,519; 3 Ford 7,885; 4 Mitsubishi 4,630; 5 Nissan 4,048; 6 Hyundai 3,114; 7 Mazda 3,102; 8 Subaru 2,380; 9 Honda 1,645; 10 Mercedes-Benz 1,327

Top 10 manufacturers year to date:

1 Holden 56,737; 2 Toyota 46,718; 3 Ford 32,490; 4 Mitsubishi 20,398; 5 Nissan 15,857; 6 Hyundai 13,258; 7 Mazda 11,054; 8 Subaru 9,203; 9 Honda 7,062; 10 Mercedes-Benz 4,870