Malaysia’s new-vehicle sales climbed 12.7% in March to a record 63,265 units, up 56.6% from February’s total.

A Malaysian Automotive Assn. attributes the increase to a longer working month and a rush by companies with financial years ending March 31.

Passenger-vehicle sales rose 11.7% to 56,483 units, while commercial-vehicle deliveries jumped 20.9% to 6,782.

“Fear and anticipation of a possible short supply and higher prices of motor vehicles caused by the catastrophe in Japan resulted in consumers buying forward,” the MAA says in a statement. “The strong sales in March 2011 are unusual.”

The government’s Bernama news agency quotes the MAA as predicting April sales will be slower because of adjustments in production as a result of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Through the year’s first three months, total sales increased 7.5% to 158,348 units.

Vehicle production in March rose 3% to 53,124 units, with passenger-car output up 2.9% to 49,118.

The Star newspaper reports Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua (Perodua) retained its top position in the first quarter with 45,700 new-car sales and a 29% market share. The result was down 4.4% from prior-year’s 47,800 and 32.4% stake.

Perodua has been Malaysia’s sales leader for the last five years.

Managing Director Aminar Rashid Salleh is quoted as saying the year’s second and third quarters will be challenging, as the auto maker’s operations are being impacted by the disaster in Japan. But, “we believe this situation is temporary and we will bounce back strongly,” he adds.

Proton Holdings posted 3-month deliveries of 44,870 units, and Managing Director Zainal Tahir tells reporters the company aims to regain its position as the country's top-selling auto maker this year.

“We target to sell between 7%-8% higher than last year, but we are working to achieve at least 10% compared to 9% in 2010,” he is quoted as saying by Bernama.

Proton sold 157,274 cars in 2010, while Perodua delivered a record 188,641.