Strong new vehicle sales across all vehicle segments resulted in record monthly March volume in Australia, eclipsing the previous record set in 2007 by 352 vehicles. According to 'official' Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) VFACTS data, 94,744 passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles were sold last month, up 25.2% or 19,094 vehicles year on year.

“This is an outstanding March result and provides further evidence that the marketplace is returning to pre-global financial crisis levels,” FCAI chief executive Andrew McKellar said.

SUV sales led the charge in March increasing by 44.1%, followed by passenger cars (up 23.5%), heavy commercials (up 20.2%) and light commercials (up 12%).

“Business sales show some signs of easing following the phase out of targeted tax breaks but it is pleasing to see renewed growth from private buyers,” McKellar added. “With warnings of further interest rate rises, private buyers should move to take advantage of the current rate levels.”

Sales to car rental companies increased 331.5% during March in line with increased tourism and business activity.

Toyota retained the top selling position in March, increasing its market share to 21.4%; followed by General Motors' Holden unit with 12.4% and Ford with 8.5%.

Hyundai surpassed Mazda for the second time running, with an 8.2% share. Mazda took a reduced 7.9% of the market.

Year to date, 251,827 vehicles have been sold – an increase of 18.2% or 38,857 vehicles versus the first quarter of 2009.

Toyota Australia said March 2010 was its 60th consecutive month as the top selling car company 'down under'.

Its 20,306-unit tally was 8,500 units or 72% ahead of Holden and up 22.3% year on year. That exceeded the combined totals of Holden and Ford and took Q1 sales to over 51,000 sales - giving the Japanese automaker an overall market lead of 18,000 vehicles so far in 2010.

Toyota was the only carmaker to sell 20,000 vehicles in a single month and 50,000 in any three-month period.

Toyota led eight segments with its Yaris, Camry, Prado, LandCruiser 200 Series, Hilux 4x4, HiLux 4x2, HiAce van and HiAce bus.

Toyota Australia's senior executive director of sales and marketing, David Buttner, said the March results and 60-month milestone, while significant, were not goals in themselves.

"We are constantly striving to improve everything we do - and we regard sales records as one measure of our success in meeting the requirements of our customers."

Buttner said factors behind the industry's healthy March sales included the improving economy and competitive retail offers.

He said last year's investment allowance bonuses continued to contribute - perhaps by 5,000 or more sales across the industry in March alone.

"The underlying level of demand suggests the industry will achieve a full-year market in excess of 950,000 and probably quite a bit higher," Buttner added.

"At this stage, we continue to believe the market will return above the one-million mark in 2011, although it may come tantalisingly close this year."

April sales would be impacted by school holidays, the Easter break and the Anzac Day [25 April public holiday] long weekend, with a return to stronger results in May and June.

Holden said its locally-made Commodore maintained its position as Australia’s best-selling car overall with 4,209 sold last month; the best March tally for the nameplate since March 2007.

Sales of the imported, GM Daewoo-built Captiva SUV rose 153% in March to 1,455 and SUV segment record for Holden.

Executive director of sales and marketing, John Elsworth, said the results had given
Holden a strong start in 2010 and followed "pleasing" results in January and February.

“March saw us build on the sales momentum generated earlier in the year, to achieve a very
strong first quarter for 2010,” he said.

“Commodore continues to be mainstay of our range, proving popular in showrooms time
after time.

“We are also very pleased with the Captiva range which has really found the sweet spot in
the SUV market.

"We have some great offers in the marketplace at the moment, right across the Holden
range, that we believe will entice customers into our showrooms and continue the sales
momentum that we have seen in the first quarter of 2010."

Local media reports said the strength of demand for cars last month was in marked contrast with weakness in retail sales suggested household consumption overall was healthier than the retail data implied.