South Africa's new vehicle sales fell 17.5% in March to 47,778 units from the same month a year ago, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (NAAMSA) has reported.

NAAMSA said that the year-on-year comparison was against one of the highest sales months on record. Also, fewer selling days (Easter) contributed to the sales decline.

On a positive note, the traditional seasonal strength in the new car market in March was evidenced by a modest improvement in the selling rate of new cars per day compared to February, the trade body said.

New car sales in March were off 23.1% on last year at 27,724 units.

Demand in the new car market had weakened substantially in recent months as a result of the cumulative effects of past interest rate increases and pressure on disposable income due to rising energy, food and fuel costs. Negative consumer sentiment and business confidence had also continued to impact on sales.

NAAMSA said that the outlook this year was for the market to remain under pressure as a result of tighter monetary conditions, growing inflationary pressures, high levels of household debt and a modest slowdown in economic activity levels.