Confidence in the New Zealand economy is on the up, if a 25.7 per cent year-to-date hike in new-vehicle sales is a barometer.

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Sales to the end of September totalled 83,343 units, made up of 60,589 passenger cars and 22,754 light comercials – numbers that suggest overall 2013 sales could near 110,000, or roughly 10,000 units up on last year.

Sports utility vehicles represented 27 per cent of all sales for the month, followed by small passenger cars at 21 per cent and pick-ups at 19 per cent.

It was the best September for light commercials in more than 30 years, or since the Motor Industry Association began recording numbers in 1981.

The 2799 commercial sales were up 36 per cent on the 2053 units sold in the same month last year. Passenger car sales last month of 7272 units were up 6.5 per cent on September 2012 numbers.

The Ford Ranger was the leading commercial in September with 425 units, followed closely by the Toyota Hilux with 406.

But year-to-date Hilux sales of 3602 units heads the Ranger’s 3392. The battle between the two workhorses is expected to hot up in the fourth quarter now that several four-wheel-drive Hilux variants have just been upgraded to a five-star crash rating by the Australiasian New Car Assessment Programme.

Toyota added safety features like seatbelt reminders, and improved knee and side impact protection for four-wheel-drive single cab and extra cab models built from August on.

The four-wheel-drive dual cab Hilux has yet to be tested but ANCAP indicated it would also get a five-star rating.

Two-wheel-drive versions of the Hilux didn’t pick up the extra safety features and maintain their four-star rating.

The maximum ANCAP pass mark brings the Hilux variants up to speed with rivals like the Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Volkswagen Amarok and Holden Colorado. The Nissan Navara, Isuzu D-Max, and Mitsubishi Triton have four-star ratings.

Toyota NZ sales executive Steve Prangnell says it is already telling customers about the new rating.

The Ranger – the first ute to be awarded a five-star crash rating – has been nipping at the heels of the Hilux for the past year.“If we get more sales then that’s bonus,” he said. “Fleets are a keys focus where Hilux has long been the truck of choice.”

It will gain further sales traction if it survives the gruelling Dakar rally in South America in January, an ultimate test of man and machine. Ford has entered two South African-built Rangers in the event.

 

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