SYDNEY Sales of new vehicles in Australia held almost steady in March as strong demand for sports utilities offset weakness in the passenger car sector, an industry report showed on Thursday.
The Australian Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries' VFACTS report showed sales of 97,267, down 0.1 percent on March last year.
Sales in original terms were up 12 percent in March compared to February, which when adjusted for seasonal factors equated to a dip of 0.2 percent.
In the year to date, sales were running 2.4 percent behind the same period in 2013, but still pointed to a solid annual pace of 1.112 million vehicles.
Demand for sports vehicles was the standout as sales jumped 5.6 percent compared to March last year. That was a marked contrast to sales of passenger vehicles which fell 3.3 percent, mostly due to falls in the small car segments.
For March alone, Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) retained first place on the sales ladder with a slightly increased market share of 18.8 percent.
The local Holden unit of General Motors Co (GM.N) followed with a share of 10.1 percent, while Mazda Motor Corp (7261.T) dropped back a place with 9.5 percent.
Hyundai Motor Co (005380.KS) again came fourth with 8.8 percent, while Ford Motor Co (F.N) trailed badly with 7.2 percent. Both Ford and GM have announced plans to close their Australia car making units in the face of fierce competition and sustained losses.
(Reporting by Wayne Cole; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)