A total of 5,457 vehicles fewer have been sold in Colombia year to date due to a strange start to 2008.

There are both political and economic reasons for this fall. Last year, the government announced vehicle import quotas that suggested to the wider public that that local assemblers would slash prices due to surplus production.

Then the American subprime crisis made investors nervous and both Colombian banks and consumers became more cautious about the use of credit to buy cars.

Third, the Ecuador border crisis slowed the economy and then there was a week of public holidays in March.

Passenger car sales have fallen 6.9%; taxis 32.7%, pickup trucks 5.1%, vans 14.3%, trucks 24.8% and buses 10.3% compared to last year's first quarter.

The large taxi fall is explained by Hyundai's stock shortage that affected around 1,000 units which couldn't be sold despite willing buyers.

The only segment that has grown is 4x4, with a shiny +17.2%.

But segment market share remained almost the same: passenger cars decreased just 1.2%, taxis rose 2.8%, 4x4 +3.2%, pickup trucks -0.4%, vans +0.2%, trucks +1.8% and buses 0.0% compared to last year's first quarter.

On the other hand, brand statistics showed some losers. Fiat, due to the Brazilian real's revaluation against the US dollar decreased 46.9%, Daihatsu was off 41.2%, Chery -38.2%, Subaru -30.3% and Chrysler -28.6%.

Winners? Volvo cars +490%, JMC Trucks +292.9%, Iveco +86.4%, BMW +82.6% and Land Rover +72.7%.

Despite all this, Colombian analysts, including Econometría staticians, predict a similar 2008 to last year due to expected growth in the economy of 4.5%.

New model launches last month included the Brazilian-built Toyota Corolla for South American markets, the Colombia-assembled Mazda 2 and VW's Golf GTi and Passat.

Juan Vargas