The Australian automotive industry posted record sales in January.

Official VFACTS figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) showed that 76,936 new cars, trucks and buses were sold last month – an increase of 6,933 or 9.9% on the record for the month set in January 2006.

Most of the increase was due to a continued boom in the popularity of small and light cars.

Small car sales were up 4,105 or 26.3% and light cars up 1,303 or 14.3%.

“This is a long-term trend beyond petrol price volatility, part of a fundamental shift in consumer preferences that’s been gathering momentum for a couple of years,” said the chief executive of the FCAI, Peter Sturrock.

In line with the trend, Toyota‘s Corolla small car was Australia’s most popular vehicle in January with 3,485 sales, narrowly ahead of Holden’s Commodore large car with 3,474.

Conversely, the January market saw strong performances in the family vehicle sectors of SUV medium and large car.

Medium SUV sales rose 746 vehicles or 17.24%, while large car sales levelled out after last year’s decline – down just 81 vehicles or 0.9%.

“The reduction in petrol prices in December and January played a part in better sales of family sedans and wagons, but equally significant was new model activity in both segments,” said Sturrock.

He said January motor vehicle sales were consistent with bullish consumer sentiment evident in record Christmas and post-Christmas retail sales.

While a 10% sales increase spread across the year would see motor vehicle sales top the million mark for the first time, the FCAI is forecasting sales of 970,000 in 2007.

A total of 962,666 vehicles were sold in Australia in 2006 – a 2.5% fall on the all-time record of 988,269 set in 2005.

Toyota was the bestselling brand in January with 16,238 sales, ahead of Holden (11,258) and Ford (7,501).

In fourth place was a surging Mazda with 6,627 sales, up 23.1% on January 2005.

Also enjoying big sales increases were sixth-placed Nissan, which rose 25.1% and seventh-placed Mitsubishi with an increase of 26.8%.