A resurgence in the economy has drawn new car buyers out of the woodwork, a Rotorua car dealer says.
Nearly 900 new passenger vehicles were registered in Rotorua in the year to December, a 4 per cent increase on 2011.
Rotorua Kia and Ssangyong dealer principal John Clough said 2012 sales were "significantly stronger" than the previous year.
"I would say the economy [was a contributor] we're slowly coming out of the recession ... people feel more confident.
"For a lot of people, they have held off replacing their motor vehicles during the recession and they feel confident about upgrading at this point."
More fuel-efficient models were selling than ever before to counter high petrol prices, with smaller engine sizes becoming more popular.
"The main focus today with purchasers is fuel efficiency and safety features, as well as value for money. Smaller petrol engines - that's the trend - the modern engines are producing more power from a smaller CC engine and obviously returning excellent fuel usage at the same time."
Nationally, new vehicle purchases surged in the past year, with sales topping 100,000 for only the third time since 1989, despite sluggish trading conditions in many other sectors.
In total, 100,795 new vehicles were bought last year, up 16,155 on 2011, the Motor Trade Association (MTA) said. MTA spokesman Ian Stronach said last year was considerably stronger than anyone had predicted.
New passenger car sales reached their highest level in five years. Sales were dominated by Toyota, Ford and Holden respectively.
The top-selling models were the Toyota Corolla (5324), Suzuki Swift (3321) and Holden Captiva (2506).
New commercial vehicle sales also had a good year, reaching a four-year high with 23,924 sold.
The top commercial models were the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and Nissan Navara.
"While a positive result, the market is really only returning to where it was pre-GFC [global financial crisis]."
Mr Stronach said today's buyers had more makes and models to choose from, but New Zealand's overall rate of new vehicle sales still lagged behind that of Australia and the US.
"That in turn provides them with a newer fleet that's cleaner, more efficient and safer than ours."
Sales of used imported passenger vehicles were down 3 per cent to 78,311, but still well ahead of predictions.
Mr Stronach said the market had quickly adjusted to meet revised exhaust emissions standards, with the "pool of qualifying vehicles" set to expand again this year.
A litre of 91 octane cost 212.9 cents last December, compared to 206.9 cents at the same time in 2011. Today's price in the Bay of Plenty ranges from 202.9 to 219.9.
The resurgence in new vehicle sales and greater fuel efficiency did not spill into the motorcycle market, which suffered the lowest recorded sales since 2003. There were 5945 new motorbikes registrations nationwide in the year to December, a 7 per cent fall.
The flight towards less powerful mopeds and scooters had clearly stopped, with sales down 28 per cent last year, Mr Stronach said.