The South African vehicle market surged by 30% in September versus year-ago levels, but the comparison was distorted by last year's industrial dispute which caused stock shortages.

Nevertheless, the figures exceeded local industry expectations and were described by the local trade association as 'cause for optimism'.

The South African auto industry's trade body, Naamsa, said that aggregate industry domestic sales in September were up 30% to 54,364 units. Total year-to-date domestic vehicle sales to the end of September remained 16.2% ahead of the same period last year.

Export figures were also up strongly on last year; export sales in September stood at 25,933 vehicles, a 106.9% jump on September 2010.

Total new car sales during September were up 26.2% at 37,832 units.

Naamsa said that the latest sales figures also reflected a sharp improvement in the growth momentum in the new car sales cycle. The September new car market had again received support from strong demand by car rental companies with the car rental industry accounting for over a fifth of total new car sales.

The trade association also said that low interest rates and a further improvement in vehicle affordability were among factors that helped drive sales up. The new car market for 2011 was likely to show an improvement of about 15%, in volume terms, on the 2010 figures, Naamsa said, while additional consumer interest was expected as a result of numerous new model launches at the Johannesburg International Motor Show (to be held at Expo Centre, Nasrec, from 6th through 16th October, 2011).

However, Naamsa also cautioned that the direction of the global economy remained uncertain and could impact future export sales. However, it added that at this stage 'there were no indications of cut-backs in export orders'.