New vehicle sales inSouth Africa in 2011 improved by 16% over the previous year, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of SA has reported."Industry aggregate new vehicle sales for calendar 2011, at an estimated 571 425 units, was 78 518, or 15.9%, more than the 492 907 sold the previous year," Naamsa said in a statement. If sales reported by Great Wall Motors, which recently agreed to report its figures, are included the total rises to 578 000.However, Naamsa said 2011 sales were well below the record total domestic market of 714 315 vehicles in 2006.NO MERCEDESNew vehicle sales - excluding Mercedes-Benz, which has suspended reporting on a directive from HQ in Germany - for December 2011 were 43 790, up 4335 vehicles or 11% over total new vehicle sales of 39 455, including Mercedes, in December 2010. If, Naamsa said, a conservative estimate of Mercedes-Benz' December, 2011 sales was included the total market for December 2011 would have been around 45 200 vehicles.Export sales in December, excluding Mercedes, at 13 665 units were down 38% from the 22 157 of December 2010. Naamsa had projected export figures of more than 300 000 vehicles for 2011 but the actual figure was 272 000. South Africa exports vehicles to 77 countries."Nevertheless, the 2011 exports represent the second-highest annual export figure on record," Naamsa said.EXPORT GROWTH"Assuming continued demand in most export markets, projected higher exports to African countries and factoring in the contribution of the Ford global compact vehicle export programme - industry export sales during 2012 could improve by 50 000 vehicles or 18.5% over 2011," Naamsa said.That would take the figure to about 320 000.Naamsa said trading conditions in the South African vehicle industry were intensely competitive with more than 60 brands and almost 2200 model derivatives of cars and light commercials but new vehicle-related sales turnover grew by about 18% in 2011 to R160-billion.An estimated 650 000 used vehicles were sold in 2011, Naamsa added.PREDICTIONS...Naamsa believes that if the South African economy grows by three to 3.5% in 2012, taking into account other domestic and international trends, domestic vehicle sales could increase by around seven percent in 2012."New vehicle sales over the short to medium term will remain a function of the performance of the domestic economy and, in the case of exports, the sustainability of recovery in the global economy," Naamsa said.The predicted improvement in domestic sales and anticipated growth in exports could see domestic production of motor vehicles in South Africa rise from about 540 500 in 2011 to 610 000 in 2012.Naamsa said this would be consistent with its vision of achieving an annual domestic vehicle production figure of almost 1.2-million vehicles by 2020.