Vehicle sales ‘Down Under’ during 2002 have been audited at a record 824,309 cars and commercials - beating the old mark set in 1998 by 16,640 units, writes Mike Duffy.

It was a fitting end to a year which saw exports rise to record numbers, Mitsubishi Motors get a $A1 billion vote of confidence from its Japanese parent and a landmark deal by Holden to ship cars to the United States.

The total domestic market was up 51,628 or 6.7% on calendar 2001 - a performance achieved against a backdrop of a failing world economy, the fallout of terrorist action and the threat of war with Iraq.

GM affiliate Holden was the big winner, claiming 21.6% of the total market and setting an in-house record in a single year of 178,392 sales - 7.7% up on last year - and claiming a dominant 26.4% of the passenger segment.

The Holden Commodore recorded its fifth year and 63rd consecutive month as Australia’s top-selling car. Commodore took 47% of the large car market with 88,478 sales, eclipsing its old rival Ford's Falcon which could do no better than 29% with 54,629 sales.

Toyota finished the year with the best sales in December to take second position year-to-date with 157,864 sales, according to official VFACTS figures released on Wedneday by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries. This gave Toyota 19.2% of the 2002 tally - 20,528 sales behind Holden which started the year strong and was never beaten.

Ford Australia concluded the year a distant third with 109,194 sales for, by its own standards, a meagre 13.2% of the total market. But the Falcon - out-gunned by Commodore two to one for so long - had its best month for years in December recording 5,875 sales, 908 units behind Commodore.

While a high percentage of Falcon sales in December would have been heavily discounted superseded models, the Car of the Year-winning redesigned BA model is luring back Ford faithful who defected following the introduction of the friendless AU.

While Commodore has the momentum to maintain its position at the head of the field, Falcon is tipped to give it closer competition in 2003.

The Hyundai Accent was the best-performing light car, Toyota’s Corolla was a powerful winner in the small car segment and Toyota also took the honours in the medium class with the four cylinder Camry.

As stated, Commodore was the best selling large car - and the No 1 performer - and the Tarago (Previa) brought up the treble for Toyota in the people mover (minivan) arena.

The Holden Monaro - which has taken US motor shows by storm with Pontiac GTO badging, a power boost and a new nose - easily ran out the top selling sports car with 30.6% of the segment.

The Holden Statesman was the top selling local prestige car while the Mercedes-Benz C-class took the imported prestige car prize - just 80 units ahead of the BMW 3 series.

Nissan was the No 1 importer with 50,628 sales - the best year since 1991.

The success of the X-Type Jaguar gave its creator record sales of 1,751 units.

It was Subaru's sixth consecutive record year and Mazda's best ever effort with 39,152 sales.

Mercedes-Benz also retailed its way to a record 10,800 passenger cars and 13,311 units including commercials.

Lexus sales were up 34% on 2001 to set a new record with 2,815 sales, 214 more than the previous high in 1999.

Top Ten brands in 2002:

1. Holden 178, 392 - 21.6% 2. Toyota 157,864 - 19.2% 3. Ford 109,194 - 13.2% 4. Mitsubishi 67,396 - 8.2% 5. Nissan 50,628 - 6.1% 6. Mazda 39,152 - 4.7% 7. Hyundai 34,176 - 4.1% 8. Subaru 28,112 - 3.4% 9. Honda 23,587 - 2.9% 10. Mercedes-Benz 18,077 - 2.2%