The Colombian automotive industry is on the way to its best sales year in history, according to data from Econometria which compiles statistics for the Colombian Automotive Committee, the industry's trade group.

Not even the most optimistic industry observer would have forecast the new car market growing by 35.1% in February alone.

The pundits had suggested about 15% but Colombia's economy is currently flooded with dollars, due to low interest rates in the USA and the stronger peso which is now at the same level as in 2002, and that means money in consumers' pockets.

Sales in January-February grew 37.5% to 26,734 units and, if this trend continues for the rest of the year, the 1997 record-sales milestone will be passed.

So far in 2006, GM, Renault and Hyundai head the sales charts, as usual, so interest is focused on whether Toyota will overtake Mazda.

Toyota sales so far are actually off 8.77% (from 1,253 in '05 to 1,143 this year) while Mazda's volume is also off - by 12% to 1,235. But, at the end of February, Toyota was clinging to 4.3% market share and Mazda held 4.6%.

At the top GM's Chevrolet - selling GM-Daewoo and Opel-designed models - has a clear lead at 10,491 cars and 39% market share. Second-placed Renault has shifted 4,691 for 18% and Hyundai sold 3,439 units for a 13% share.

Juan Vargas