Chamber chief executive Tony Weber linked the drop-off in car sales to the troubles facing the national property market.
“Given the current challenging economic conditions, including a downturn in the housing market,
the automotive industry is not surprised by the slower start to the year,” he said.
The biggest fall by state was in Victoria, where sales were 11.7 per cent down on February last year. In NSW, sales were down by 11 per cent while in Western Australia they were down by 8.3 per cent.
The same three states have suffered the largest falls in property prices over the past 18 months.
The big drops continue to hit the passenger vehicle market, with sales in February down 21.3 per cent on the same time last year.
Sports utility vehicle sales dropped by 6.3 per cent while light commercial sales lifted by 6 per cent.
Holden has suffered the biggest hit, with sales so far this year down 23.2 per cent on the same period in 2018. Sales of market leader Toyota have edged down by 3.8 per cent over the same period while the No.2 company, Mazda, was down by 6.5 per cent.
Overall car sales started to slow from the middle of last year, with the drop-off accelerating through the final three months of 2018.
Separate figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest Wednesday’s national accounts will show the economy barely growing over the past three months.
General government final consumption rose by $1.6 billion or 1.8 per cent in the December quarter with the bureau estimating this will add 0.3 percentage points to the national account result.
But the balance of payments result of the quarter showed a drop in the volume of exports and a lift in imports. The bureau estimated international trade will subtract 0.2 percentage points from growth.
Inventory figures released by the bureau on Monday also suggest they will cut growth by 0.1 percentage points in the quarter.
Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.