The Australian motor vehicle market has shown resilience by setting a new record for the month of March.

The industry shrugged off a slight sales dip in February to record a total of 87,156 last month - up 0.6% on the previous record set in 2005.

At the end of the first quarter, total sales were 234,605 - down 2887 or 1.2% on the same period last year.

"The first-quarter result is actually very good when you consider that the industry set sales records in two out the three months," said the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), Peter Sturrock.

At this early stage sales have put the industry on track to meet the chamber' s forecast of 980,000 for the year.

Last year the industry set a new record total of 988,269 - the fourth year in a row that sales have reached record levels.

The biggest trend in the market remains the boom in light car sales - which were up 19.9% in March and 22.3% for the first quarter.

"Higher fuel prices are clearly having an influence on buying patterns but there' s more to it than simply that," said Sturrock.

"The new generation of comparatively safer and better-equipped Light cars is attracting entry-level motorists who might previously have bought a second-hand vehicle."

Sturrock said the effect of fuel prices was obvious in the sales of the previously booming sports utility market, which was down 9.0% in the first quarter.

The trend for the medium and large car segments was also softer with medium cars below $A55,000 down 8.7% for the year to date and large cars below $80,000 down 17.6%.

"The release of new models has a positive effect on how various segments fare, and we' re hopeful that medium and large car sales will pick up when new product is launched in the second half of the year, said Sturrock, apparently referring to Holden's redesigned Commodore and a unique locally-built V6-powered Toyota Camry derivative called the Aurion.

Light commercial vehicle sales have been one of the other drivers of overall Australian market growth.

LCV sales were up 12.8% last month and 6.7% for the first quarter.

Commercial vehicle sales remain remarkably robust, despite evidence elsewhere of some softening in economic conditions, said Sturrock.

The willingness to buy new light trucks suggests there' s still plenty of confidence amongst business, he suggested.

Toyota was market leader in March with 18,649 sales, ahead of Holden (13,555) and Ford (11,118).

At the end of the first quarter Toyota led Holden by 10,842.