Australian motor vehicle sales in July were down just 1.4% despite record fuel prices, concerns over interest rates and the one-off effects of the major changeover of the locally manufactured Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry.

Official figures compiled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) show that 77,562 cars, trucks and buses were sold in July - down 1,079 vehicles on the record for the month set last year.

So far this year motor vehicle sales are down 3.1% from record 2005 levels.

"Especially in view of current circumstances July motor vehicle sales were very strong and a great encouragement for the automotive industry," said FCAI chief executive Peter Sturrock.

The unique changeover of two top-selling locally made models - the Commodore and Camry - was largely responsible for the downturn in registrations, he added.

Toyota delivered only 656 four-cylinder Camrys in July compared to 2,021 a year ago. Holden delivered 4,022 Commodores compared to 5445 in 2005.

"Both companies are completing run-out campaigns in preparation for the public launch of their new models," Sturrock said.

He said the strong June market in which 96,448 vehicles were delivered did not appear to have adversely affected the July result.

"Traditionally end-of-financial-year demand creates a pull forward which adversely affects July," Sturrock said. "However this year the effects of the pull-through have been minimal".

Sturrock noted that private motor vehicle sales weathered high fuel prices and the expectation of an interest rate rise remarkably well during July.

"Clearly the Reserve Bank expects its decision will dampen consumer spending but its effect on the automotive market is yet to be determined," he said.

Demand for light cars year to date is now up 21.4% and for small cars up 3.7%.

"There is no doubt that the changing buying patterns of Australian motorists are having an effect on the composition of the market," Sturrock said.

However the FCAI is sticking to its forecast of 980,000 vehicle sales in 2006.

"The current running rate points to an actual registration of 961,000 vehicles," Sturrock said. "But competitive activity, especially amongst local manufacturers with new and improved models, is certain to result in substantial market reaction in the next five months."

Toyota was the top motor vehicle brand in July with 16,977 sales, ahead of Holden (11,129) and Ford (9,627).

Year to date to the end of July, Toyota leads Holden by 36,071 sales.

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