Consumer uncertainty and continuing supply constraints resulting from the Japanese natural disaster led to "soft" vehicle sales in July, according to Australia's Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

Its official VFACTS data showed 80,991 new vehicles were sold in July, 1.7% (or 1,385) fewer than in July 2010.

“While the drop in sales in July is small compared to the same month last year, the overall drop in sales for the year to date of 5.9% indicates that consumers are continuing to delay new vehicle purchases”, said FCAI acting chief executive Steve Payne.

“The supply of vehicles and components from Japan, following the earthquake and tsunami in March, has improved, however sales of several popular models were still affected by supply constraints,” Payne added.

“Sales of SUVs continue to grow, with an increase of 1.8% compared to July 2010 and, in particular, luxury SUVs have had a very strong year, with year-to-date sales up 17.4%.” 

The Holden Commodore was the single best selling model in July with 3,551 sales, followed by the Mazda 3 (3,290), Toyota HiLux (3,147) and Holden Cruze (3,123).

Payne said the FCAI was expecting sales would return to long-term trends as the supply constraints mitigated.

“We expect annual sales to be around 1m vehicles for 2011.”

Toyota reclaimed market leadership in July with 12,980 sales, followed by Holden with 10,819 and Ford (7,769).

Toyota Australia's sales and marketing chief David Buttner said customers could look forward to dealers having strong availability of stock for the rest of the year.

"We have more than 20,000 vehicles arriving in both August and September to meet customer orders and support our two-month Toyotathon promotion," Buttner said.

"Toyota has recovered more quickly than expected from production disruptions caused by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March.

"Manufacturing plants supplying vehicles for the Australian market have worked hard to make up lost production.

Buttner said it was remarkable that Toyota's global parent company had this week released "positive" production and financial data.

"Toyota is now back on track globally with a small net profit in the April-June quarter and higher full-year forecasts for production and profits," he said.

Holden sales director Philip Brook said July was a sound month across a number of car lines, reflected in the brand's "steady" market share.

“Our strong July results come off the back of some great locally-built product. Commodore sedan and Sportwagon models continue to draw plenty of attention in our showrooms while the customer reaction to the Series II [locally made] Cruze has been quite phenomenal,” Brook said. “We plan to build on this momentum in the second half of the year as we continue to roll out new models across the range.

“Our next-generation Barina and locally-designed Cruze hatch are just around the corner and we expect the launch of these models to cap off a strong year.”

Year to date, Holden has sold 73,389 vehicles for a market share of 12.7%.