Vehicle shortages and Easter and school holidays saw New Zealand’s April new-vehicle sales fall 1% to 5,610 units.

The Motor Industry Assn. says passenger-car deliveries dropped 7.1% to 4,258 units, while commercial vehicles jumped 22.6% to 1,352. Year-to-date sales climbed 11% to 27,797 units.

“Some of the market volatility is driven by new-vehicle supply constraints as a result of the Great Tohoku Kanto Earthquake (in Japan),” MIA CEO Perry Kerr says in a statement.

“The supply situation is changing daily as the Japanese motor industry takes positive action to address the component shortages, which are affecting production both in Japan and in other markets.

“The impact of this on each MIA member (here) will vary, and within the next six months, some model lines and/or individual vehicles may be unavailable.”

New Zealand imports its new vehicles completely built-up, and Kerr says he has full confidence in the Japanese industry overcoming all setbacks relatively quickly.

Toyota retained the top sales spot in the new-car segment in April with 561 units, followed by Ford (451) and Hyundai (433).

Year-to-date, Toyota leads the segment with 3,980 units. However, Hyundai moved into second place with 2,001 deliveries, ahead of GM Holden (1,954) and Ford (1,899)

In the commercial segment, Toyota sold 333 units in April, ahead of Ford (246) and Mitsubishi (135). Through the first four months, Toyota delivered 1,851 vehicles, followed by Ford (880) and Nissan (774).

The Suzuki Swift was New Zealand’s top-selling light vehicle for April with 248 units, followed by the Toyota Hilux (210), Ford Ranger (207) and Toyota Corolla (149).

After four months, the Corolla remains in the lead with 1,623 deliveries, easily clear of the Toyota Hilux (1,277) and Suzuki Swift (1,171).

But while Toyota continues to dominate the market, the auto maker fears it could lose its crown this year because of the Japanese disaster.

General Manager of Sales and Operations Steve Prangnell says the company has enough vehicles for the next two months, but stocks will be short from July.

“I don't think you can say we’re not going to see a shortage of new Toyotas,” he tells the Dominion Post newspaper in Wellington. “That’s definitely an outcome of (the shortage).”

Prangnell says the Japanese parent is expected to release stock on a “fair-share allocation” based on regular orders. “Where normally we get 100% of what we ask for, we’re going to get about 50% for at least three to four months.”

Toyota already is slowing its advertising and marketing campaigns. “There's no point trying to drive customer demand when you don't have enough,” he says. “We’ve got demand; we just don't have enough supply.”

Toyota sold 18,036 vehicles in New Zealand last year for a 22.4% share of the market, which stood at 80,443 units. MIA data shows the auto maker was comfortably ahead of Ford (9,420) and GM Holden (7,799).

Should Toyota lose half its annual sales and Ford pick up even part of the slack, the U.S. auto maker could find itself the market leader in December.

MIA CEO Perry Kerr tells the newspaper the Japanese disaster is likely to have a significant impact on New Zealand’s new-car sales this year.

“In my assessment, we've got the potential to lose anything up to three, if not four months of new-vehicle sales this year,” he says, noting this would see annual sales fall by up to 15,000 units this year.

Earlier, Kerr predicted supplies of new vehicles from Japan, Thailand and Australia would be affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the latter two due to disrupted parts suppliers.

“We will not escape the inevitable impact that will flow on from these two unparalleled disasters,” Kerr said in a statement.

Prangnell says Toyota has only a 2-month buffer of parts. “The situation with parts is yet to be fully clarified, but we expect our service experts will have to prioritize urgent repairs, especially on some of the more fast-moving parts.

“Our focus is on ensuring optimum stock management to reduce the impact on customers of any production shortfalls. But later in the year, it may be difficult to avoid some inconvenience for some customers.”