New car sales exceeded expectations in March, led by an increase in the number of new passenger car sales.

The number of new vehicles rose 3 per cent to 8,528 in March from a year earlier, the Motor Trade Association said, citing NZ Transport Agency figures.

"There is a good amount of economic optimism out there - certainly more than some commentators had predicted," said Ian Stronach, market and communications general manager at the Motor Trade Association. "Even though the market had figured these factors in, there are a few operators who have been surprised at the size of the market," he said.

New passenger car sales rose 7 per cent to 6,499 units, while the number of new commercial vehicle sales fell 152 units to 2,029.


"While commercial vehicle sales have been a little soft, strong new car sales are perhaps reflecting an upswing in our economic fortunes," Stronach said.

Toyota was the top passenger brand holding a 15 per cent share of sales, followed by Hyundai and Holden both on 10 per cent. Toyota was also the top selling brand among commercial vehicles with 25 per cent sales. It was followed by Ford on 14 per cent and Nissan on 13 per cent.

Motorcycle sales bucked the trend with sales down 35 per cent to 498 units.