New vehicle sales in South Africa rose for the third month running in March, sparking the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers (Naamsa) to revise its growth expectations for this year upwards.

March showed a 20.1% increase over the same month last year, and a 10.9% gain on February this year. Naamsa now expects the market to grow this year by 12%, up from a previous prediction of 7%.

Ford’s marketing, sales and aftersales chief in South Africa, Jacques Brent, said the March results were “reassuring” although buoyed by substantial rental sales ahead of the football world cup event later this year.

He cautioned that, while the figures were encouraging, the industry should remain cautious, adding: ““Comparing year on year sales still gives a false sense of security as they’re compared to depressed market conditions.”

However, vehicle retailer McCarthy was more upbeat, according to South Africa’s Engineering News newsletter. Chief executive Brand Pretorius said: “Growth in the first quarter of 2010 resulted primarily from a higher level of economic activity and a significant improvement in both business and consumer confidence. Vehicle affordability has also improved due to modest new vehicle price increases and more attractive trade-in prices on offer because of the ongoing shortage of quality used car stock.”

Passenger car sales rose 21.9% and light commercial vehicles were up 14.6%.

Sales of medium and heavy trucks during the month also recorded a much improved performance gaining 12.5%. and 44.% respectively. Bus sales expanded year-on-year by a remarkable 242%, as World Cup sales continued to soar.

Exports of South African produced vehicles during March grew by 18.9% to 21,293 units compared with March last year.

Naamsa said 2010 export sales could grow by as much as 32% from last year’s 174,947 vehicles.