General Motors#; Australian affiliate Holden posted its best first quarter sales in history – opening up a record gap of 8,906 vehicles between its Commodore and arch-rival Ford's Falcon in the traditional big car race, writes Mike Duffy.

The runaway market leader claimed a dominant 21.7 percent of the national market and an amazing 26.8 percent of the passenger car segment.

It was the 15th consecutive month Holden has been the best selling brand and its March result was the best since 1976.

The bullish Holden executive director of sales and marketing, Ross McKenzie, warned his competitors that worse was to come because several new product launches later this year would boost sales even further.

“We have plenty in store with the release of the new Cruze all-wheel-drive, [Opel-built] Combo minivan, new [also Opel-built] Vectra and our much-anticipated VY Commodore later in the year," he said.

The lone bright spot for Ford was the Falcon Ute [‘utility#; or pickup truck] – now firmly entrenched in the passenger segment as a leisure vehicle – claiming 10th spot in the list of best sellers.

The Falcon Ute even edged Ford's own popular Mazda-made Laser passenger car line out of the top 10 back into 11th spot for the month and the quarter.

The official audit of vehicle sales, released by Australia#;s Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), showed the March market was down slightly by 1,127 vehicles or 1.6 percent.

As the month had one fewer selling day compared to last March – due to Easter – this was actually a slight increase if the figures are adjusted to compensate.

A total of 67,824 cars and light commercial vehicles were sold in March, taking year-to-date sales to 191,176 – 12,223 vehicles or 6.8 percent up on the same three months of 2001.

Holden led the market in March with 14,719 vehicles. Toyota was second on 12,325 and Ford third on 8,673.

Mitsubishi Motors' results were disappointing at 5,642 units for 8.3 percent of the market and fourth place.

The FCAI is maintaining its 2002 market forecast of 780,000 which falls in the middle of general market predictions which go as low as 770,000 and as high as 800,000.

The passenger market for the quarter came in at 191,176 vehicles, 3246 vehicles or 2.6 percent ahead of the same period the previous year.

The medium, sports, prestige, small, light and people mover [minivan] segments all enjoyed gains while large cars and luxury models retreated marginally.

Australia#;s top 10 brands in March

1 Holden 14,719

2 Toyota 12,325

3 Ford 8,673

4 Mitsubishi 5,642

5 Nissan 4,018

6 Hyundai 3,802

7 Subaru 2,457

8 Mazda 2,418

9 Honda 1,805

10 Mercedes Benz 1,213

Top 10 brands year to date:

1 Holden 42,269

2 Toyota 35,199

3 Ford 24,605

4 Mitsubishi 15,768

5 Nissan 11,809

6 Hyundai 10,144

7 Mazda 7,952

8 Subaru 6,823

9 Honda 5,417

10 Mercedes Benz 3,543

Top 10 car models in March:

1 Holden Commodore 7,244

2 Ford Falcon 3,877

3 Toyota Corolla 2,881

4 Hyundai Accent 2,341

5 Mitsubishi Magna/Verada 2,298

6 Holden Astra 2,032

7 Toyota Camry 1,982

8 Nissan Pulsar 1,458

9 Mitsubishi Lancer 1,396

10 Ford Falcon Ute 1,368

Top 10 car models year to date:

1 Holden Commodore 19,775

2 Ford Falcon 10,869

3 Toyota Corolla 7,679

4 Toyota Camry 7,309

5 Holden Astra 6,731

6 Mitsubishi Magna/Verada 5,650

7 Hyundai Accent 5,547

8 Nissan Pulsar 4,571

9 Mitsubishi Lancer 4,449

10 Ford Falcon Ute 4,105