Though volume fell 13%, 2008 was the second best year in Colombian auto industry history, with 219,498 sales, 33,536 less than record 2007 when 253,034 units were registered.

Sales slumped because the country’s growth slowed from 7.5% in 2007 to 3.5% last year as the global economic crisis started to bite, along with domestic border issues.

According to Econometría, passenger car sales fell 10.5% in 2008; taxis were down 33.2%; SUVs rose 5.9%; pickups fell 10.4%; vans were off 11.9%; trucks down 36.9%; and passenger trucks fell 7.2%.

Local assembler General Motors sold 79,631 vehicles for a 36.3% market share (volume down 14.0%), followed by Renault (27,191 and 12.4%, a 30.5% volume decrease).

Hyundai was the top fully imported brand, with 21,734 vehicles sold and a 9.8% market share (17.1% decrease) followed by locally-assembled Mazda (12,938 sales, market share of 5.9%, volume off 3.7%); Toyota (both locally assembled and imported) with 11,092 units, market share of 5.1% and growth of 3.4%.

Dodge was the fastest growing brand followed by Chinese microcar maker DFM, Chinese midsized truck producer Jmc, Audi and Porsche.

Others to post falls included Fiat, MACK, Daihatsu, Freightliner and Subaru.

Developments last year included Seat’s return to Colombia with a new importer while Toyota ended local assembly operations at SOFASA‘s plant.

In the end, the Japanese automaker couldn’t combine its two distributors (one owned by traditional importer Distoyota and the other franchised by Toyota Motor Corporation) so it now operates with both.

Fiat changed its importer, Renault took over all of Sofasa, Hino opened a US$20m truck assembly plant and BMW had its best year in over four decades here, selling 2,003 cars.

Market expectations of 2009 are bound to GDP: analysts say if the economy grows the expected 3.5%, the new vehicle market could reach 200,000 units.

Juan Vargas