South African new vehicle sales jumped 20.8% year on year in July, with the sector looking set to notch up robust growth in 2006 despite higher lending rates, an industry body said on Wednesday.

New vehicle sales rose to 56,554 in July from 30,933 in the same month last year, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (NAAMSA) said, according to Reuters.

But NAAMSA cautioned that the rate of sales growth may taper off in 2006 due to expected increases in interest rates, though the industry is still on course for a third consecutive year of record sales, the news agency's report added.

Passenger car sales were the strongest on record for July, at 37,376 units and the new car market was just over 19% ahead of the corresponding seven months last year, Reuters said.

International automakers' South African plants supply a number of right-hand drive markets including Australia, New Zealand, the UK and other markets in Africa. Vehicles shipped abroad include Toyota Corolla sedans and Hilux pickup trucks and the Mercedes-Benz C-class sedan.

Exports rose 55.6% to 80,651 units in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2005 and reached 18,300 in July, according to NAAMSA's preliminary data, Reuters added.