A slight decline in the sales of small passenger cars has taken some of the heat out of the booming Australian motor vehicle market.

Official sales figures for September from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) showed that the market grew by 3,496 units or 4.4% compared to the same month last year. This compares to year-to-date market growth of 8.3%.

The slightly lower rate of sales growth in September was the result of a softening in the passenger car market, which was down 1,191 or 2.3%.

Small passenger cars were down 2,002 units, or 10.0%, last month but the light car segment was up by 1,054 or 11.6%.

"The decline in passenger car sales last month was narrowly based and entirely due to slower sales in the small car segment," said the chief executive of the FCAI, Andrew McKellar.

"The overall motor vehicle market remains very buoyant and it is notable that sales of larger vehicles such as SUVs and four-wheel-drive utilities are up significantly, suggesting that consumer confidence remains high."

The sports utility vehicle (SUV) market grew by 2,666 sales or 20.2% over September 2006 while the light truck market increased by 1,581 or 12.6%.

Within light trucks, the pick-up/cab-chassis 4x4 segment was up 1,305 or 23.3%.

McKellar said that market fundamentals remain strong despite the interest rate rise in August and a tightening of credit conditions more generally.

"The automotive industry has geared up for a big sales push in the last quarter of 2007, based around the launch of several significant new volume models at the Australian international motor show in Sydney next week," he said.

"In such a competitive market environment we expect sales to remain strong through to the end of the year."

Toyota was the bestselling brand last month with 18,358 vehicle sales, ahead of Holden with 11,632 and Ford third with 8,818.

Year-to-date Toyota is the top-selling brand with 174,866 - a lead of 62,563 over General Motors' Holden.

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