Australia vehicle sales in February rose 8.1% to 83,740 units, setting a new benchmark and leaving the industry again dreaming of hitting the magic million mark for the year.

The previous record for the month was 81,141 units set in 2005.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says February results, following record January sales, took the market year-to-date to 160,676 units, 9% ahead of year-ago.

A 9% increase on last year’s total 962,666 sales would be more than enough to reach 1 million vehicle sales for the first time ever this year, should the present pace continue. The record is 988,259 deliveries set in 2005.

Toyota Motor Corp. Australia Ltd. continued its domination of the market, selling 18,602 units in February, up from prior-year’s 16,173. That was well ahead of GM Holden Ltd.’s 13,083 deliveries, down from year-ago’s 13,305; and Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd.’s 9,110, down sharply from 10,426.

Toyota in the first month of the year leads the industry with 34,840 sales, compared with 24,341 for GM Holden and 16,611 for Ford.

Nevertheless, Chamber CEO Peter Sturrock is pleased. “The car industry has really jumped out of the blocks this year thanks to the combined effects of new model activity and intense retail competition,” he says.

“It’s clearly a buyer’s market at the moment. Consumers seem to have put aside any concerns about interest rates they might have had and responded to the great deals on offer.”

Sturrock says the sales boom was broadly based in February, with strong growth in large vehicles as well as small.

“This suggests that (gasoline) prices may be of slightly less concern to car buyers than they were a few months ago,” he says in a statement.

“The (SUV segment) was up 10.4% on the same month last year, with the volume growth in that market evenly split between SUV medium and SUV small-segment models.”

The chamber says for the second month in a row, sales of domestically built large cars stabilized compared with year-ago. The GM Holden Commodore was easily Australia’s best-selling model in February with 5,544 sales.

“It is encouraging to local car makers to see buyers respond in large numbers to the new Commodore and (Toyota) Aurion,” Sturrock says.

The country’s four domestic auto makers, combined, sold 18,362 Australian-built vehicles in the month, fractionally up from prior-year’s 18,312.

Japan was the major source of vehicle imports, accounting for 31,113 units, ahead of Thailand’s 10,034 and South Korea’s 7,588.

Following Toyota, GM Holden and Ford in February sales were Mazda Australia Pty. Ltd. (6,365), up from prior-year’s 5,481; Nissan Motor Co. (Australia) Pty. Ltd.(5,947), up from 3,963; Honda Australia Pty. Ltd. (4,357), up from 3,484; and Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd. (5,066), up from 4,330.

Toyota set an Australian sales record for the month on the back of strong performances by its locally manufactured Camry and Aurion.

February’s 18,602 deliveries rose 15%, or more than 2,400 units, over year-ago’s record. Combined sales of Toyota’s locally built models surged 66% ahead of prior-year and up 43.2% for the year thus far.

The 4-cyl. Camry was dominant in the medium-car segment with 2,530 sales in the month and a 43% segment share. Total Camry sales for the first two months rose 15%.

The mid-luxury V-6 Aurion, also built at the company’s plant in Melbourne, saw its best sales since its launch in October, with 1,817 units in February for 15% of the large-car market.

Camry and Aurion sales, plus strong results from the Corolla, Yaris and Prius, again gave Toyota leadership of the passenger-car market, 38% ahead of like-2006 and up 28% for the year.

The Corolla was Australia’s second best-selling car at 3,591 units, while Yaris deliveries of 2,512 units jumped 43% over year-ago. An increased supply of Prius hybrid-electric cars led to a February record of 228 sales, more than double the prior-year.

Mitsubishi’s 5,066 sales in February rose 17% over year-ago and gave it a 21.4% increase on like-2006. President and CEO Robert McEniry says highlights for the month include the auto maker’s continued strong growth in import models, up 44% over year-ago. The Lancer small sedan was the major contributor, with sales up 27.7% to 1,590 units.

The light-commercial-vehicle segment was another strong performer for Mitsubishi, with 2,156 deliveries rising 13% ahead of prior year. Outlander deliveries of 661 units surged 103.4%. Sales of the all-important locally built 380 sedan at 1,017 were little changed from 1,011 a year earlier.

Mazda, for the first time ever, sold more than 6,000 vehicles in the year’s first two months, with a record-setting 6,365 deliveries in February – a best-ever result – and a record 6,627 vehicles sold in January. Its year-to-date total of 12,992 units is up 19.6% over like-2006.

The Mazda3 delivered more than 3,000 units in February, for a 2-month total of 3,014 vehicles. The Mazda6 sold 1,134 units and the Mazda2 delivered a record 629. Sales of the new CX-7 cross/utility vehicle hit 592, 42 units ahead of January. Mazda’s pickup trucks sold a record 647 units in February.

The result consolidated Mazda’s place as Australia’s top-selling exclusive importer with a year-to-date market share of 8.1% and a full-year forecast of more than 65,000 units.

Nissan Australia says February sales were up 18% for the month, its best performance in 18 years, putting it 36% ahead of year-ago for a 7.1% market share and the No.5 sales spot.

Nissan Australia CEO and Managing Director Shinya Hannya says the result also made the company the fifth-largest Nissan subsidiary for worldwide sales. “Only Japan, U.S., Mexico and China returned higher sales figures than Australia,” he says.

Honda Australia says February deliveries put it on track for another record year. Its year-to-date sales of 9,793 units give it a 6.1% market share, chasing a 2007 sales target of 60,000 units.

Honda’s Thai-sourced Civic sold 1,584 units, Jazz (Fit) 760 units and Accord 456 units. The new third-generation CR-V started strongly in its first month on sale with 944 sales and more than 1,000 orders placed.

Suzuki Australia Pty. Ltd. says it is looking to achieve another record-breaking year, after February’s 1,837 sales set an all-time record, placing it 51.2% ahead of year-ago. It attributes the record sales growth to the success of the new SX4, Grand Vitara, Swift, and Swift Sport.

BMW Australia Ltd. passenger-car sales jumped 20% in February to 1,198 units and, with the arrival of the new BMW X5 in April, the German brand is predicting record results this year.

The new 3-Series Coupe captured 37.9% of the A$80,000-plus ($62,000) plus sports segment with 195 sales. The BMW 3-Series Sedan and Touring won 43.9% of the A$60,000-plus ($46,000) medium segment.