Commercial vehicle sales hit a 30-year high last month, spurred by companies pouring resources and staff into the Canterbury rebuild.

New Zealand recorded a total of 9,293 new vehicle registrations in January, a 7 per cent increase compared to a year ago, according to the Motor Industry Association (MIA).

For commercial vehicles - such as trucks, utes, vans, coaches and buses - last month's total of 1,908 registrations was 61.4 per cent higher than last year and the highest monthly figure since 1982.

The main driver was the steadily increasing pace of economic activity in Canterbury, said MIA chief executive Perry Kerr.


ASB Bank's latest Cantometer Index showed activity in the Canterbury region lifted significantly last month, from 0.2 to 0.5, a positive number representing activity being above pre-earthquake levels.

Christchurch will provide a lot of business for car companies this year, Kerr said.

"What we have been seeing in the industry for the last eight to 12 months is increasing activity across the board down there.

"There are a lot of companies growing their staff bases - some of those companies have put in 600 to 800 staff and that is increasing demand for commercial vehicles, especially utes."

Passenger car registrations last month totaled 7,385, down by 1.5 per cent compared to last January but still only the fourth time since 1975 that the January total has exceeded 7,000.

The strong figures build on 19 per cent growth in the new vehicle industry last year.

Kerr said January used to be a slow month but rental car companies these days liked to refresh their fleets early in the year.

"Most companies want to start the year with good sales," he said.


Another reason for high January numbers is that car companies like BMW and Audi's December sales did not show up as registrations until the following month.

Kerr said growth in the industry was much higher than the general economy, which he called "very strange", but he said the high New Zealand dollar was a likely reason.

"It's certainly making new vehicles very competitive."

Most MIA members were expecting 2 to 3 per cent growth this year, he said.

Toyota had the biggest share last month, with 1,528 passenger cars and 408 commercials amounting to 20.8 per cent of total registrations.

The top selling model was the Toyota Corolla with 658 registrations, followed by the Holden Cruze with 367 and the Suzuki Swift with 254.

The Toyota Hilux was the top selling commercial model with 252 units, followed by the Nissan Navara with 220 and the Ford Ranger 217.

The SUV segment was the most popular segment with 26.9 per cent of total registrations.