Cars travel on a main road in a traffic jam.

Johannesburg - New vehicle sales for March held up reasonably well and were virtually unchanged from March last year, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA (Naamsa) said on Tuesday.

“Prospects for the balance of the year would continue to be affected by subdued economic growth, above inflation new vehicle price increases as a result of exchange rate weakness, and upward pressure on interest rates.

“Consumer sentiment remained under pressure due to high levels of indebtedness, sharp increases in energy and transport costs and e-tolling in Gauteng,” Naamsa said in a statement.

It said these factors would influence consumer demand in the case of the new car market.

In March 2014, the aggregate new vehicles registered were 55,363 which was an 87-vehicle decline or a fall of 0.2 percent compared to the 55,450 vehicles sold in March 2013.

The consumer-driven car segment had recorded a year-on-year decline of 2.2 percent.

Naamsa said the investment trend sensitive commercial vehicle segment had registered gains.

“The new car market had remained under pressure during March 2014 and at 36,798 units reflected a decline of 814 units or a fall of 2.2 percent compared to the 37,612 new cars sold in March last year,” Naamsa said.

The March export sales number reflected a decline of 3122

vehicles or an 11.2 percent fall from 27,782 vehicles exported in March last year to 24,660 units this year.

Out of the total reported industry sales 85.8 percent were dealer sales, five percent to government, 4.7 percent vehicle rental industry and 4.5 percent to industry corporate fleets.

Domestic sales of new light commercial vehicles, bakkies and minibuses reflected an improvement of 3.7 percent compared to the corresponding month last year.

Sales of vehicles in the medium and heavy truck segments of the industry reflected a mixed performance with a decline of 6.1

percent in medium commercial vehicles and a 14.9 percent increase in heavy trucks and buses.

“Domestic trading conditions were anticipated to remain difficult with pressure on margins, particularly in the new car and light commercial vehicle sectors,” said Naamsa.

“As a result of the challenging macro-environment, general consensus was that the domestic market in 2014 was likely to be flat and might even show modest declines in the various segments compared to 2013.”

Naamsa said vehicle exports should benefit from improving global economic conditions and barring domestic supply disruptions could show strong growth during the second half of the year, particularly in respect of vehicle exports to Asia, Africa and Europe. - Sapa