JOHANNESBURG - New vehicle sales in South Africa during December 2013 improved by only 0.2% on the same month in 2013, well below projected expectations but vehicle exports were the third-best on record.The National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA said on January 7 2014: "The month's new-vehicle sales ended 2013 at 46 501 units, a small improvement of 95 or 0.2% on the total new vehicle sales of 46 406 in December 2012."A national economic slowdown and above-inflation new vehicle price increases were blamed - also partly responsible, then, for the year's sales coming in at 7.3% below Naamsa's original expectation.GLOBAL RECOVERY A BOOSTExport sales were hurt by the seven-week auto industry strike between August and October but Naamsa added. "As a result, aggregate 2013 total vehicle exports, at 275 822, were well down from the industry's original vehicle projection of 336 000."Despite the lower export numbers, however, 2013 vehicle exports were the third-highest on record.Naamsa said a recovering global economy could boost export sales. "Assuming further improvement in the global economy and projected higher exports to African countries, Asia and North America, they could improve during 2014 by some 55 000 units."Total industry exports are projected to exceed 331 000 during 2014, increasing to about 381 000 in 2015."Naamsa anticipated that expected higher-than-inflation new vehicle price increases would affect demand and sales of new vehicles through 2014.11% PR0DUCTION GROWTH FORECAST"The weakness in the rand during 2013 against major currencies and depreciation on a trade-weighted basis of more than 20% has resulted in significant cost pressures on imported content (used in locally manufactured vehicles) and imported vehicles."Production of motor vehicles during 2014 was expected to rise from the 550 000 of 2013 to about 611 000 - about 11%.Naamsa added: "Overall, 2014 is likely to represent an extremely challenging year. The industry remains well-positioned to continue to make a positive contribution to the South African economy, particularly as a result of higher expected export sales."