Motor Vehicle Registrations

Monthly Statistical Bulletin Feature Articles

Statistics on the registration of new motor vehicles is one measure of motor vehicle sales and one which is widely quoted in the media. These statistics are considered to be an important indicator of the health of the economy as a whole and an indicator of economy-wide trends. The reason for this is that during times of recession purchases of new vehicles fall and at times when the economy is booming new vehicle purchases increase.

The purchase of new passenger vehicles forms a significant part of consumer expenditure. Because of this, economic analysts consider that passenger vehicle sales are an important indicator of consumer sentiment.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) collects and publishes motor vehicle registration statistics on a monthly basis.


Motor vehicle registration is a state and territory concern. To compile Australia-wide figures the ABS obtains statistics on registrations from state and territory authorities.

All state and territory authorities except those in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia provide data to the ABS on a monthly basis. These states provide data on a weekly basis. This means that in some months the ABS processes five weeks of data for these states. In turn this means it is possible in some months that there will be a greater number of registrations recorded because the carry forward from the previous month is likely to exceed the carry over to the next month.

In addition, for Queensland, data on the number of registrations processed in a calendar month can relate to vehicles registered prior to that month.

While the ABS takes great care to ensure the consistency of the statistics they publish, these state and territory differences mean that month to month variations need to be treated with caution.

Monthly data

Figure 1 shows monthly seasonally adjusted passenger vehicle registrations for the period from January 1977.

Figure 1. Passenger vehilce registrations: Seasonally adjusted

They show an irregular upward movement to a peak in early 1985 followed by a decline to a low in mid 1987. Since 1987 there has been a peak in early 1990, another trough in 1991-92 and a steady rise to the present day.

In general these peaks and troughs mirror the wider economy over this period. However, the dramatic drop in registrations in 1987 was due mainly to a range of factors relevant at the time including a depreciation in the Australian dollar, high interest rates and lower real disposable incomes. The introduction of the fringe benefits tax at around this time is considered to have had only a small effect on new car sales and hence on registrations.

Annual totals

Figure 2 shows annual totals for passenger vehicle registrations in Australia. This graph smooths out some of the fluctuations in monthly data and shows dramatically the drop in new registrations in 1987.

Figure 2. Passenger vehilce registrations: Annual Totals

MESI Table 4.2

Monthly Economic and Social Indicators Table 4.2 shows:

  •  monthly seasonally adjusted data on new registrations of passenger vehicles: motor cars, station wagons, four wheel drive passenger vehicles and forward control passenger vehicles with up to nine seats including the driver;
  •  annual totals; and
  •  annual percentage changes.

Monthly data are graphed to show the movement in the series over the past few years.

Note that the motor vehicle registration series is subject to large irregular fluctuations and care should be exercised when interpreting movements in the series.

Further information can be obtained by contacting a member of the Statistics Group in Information and Research Services, Department of the Parliamentary Library.

This feature was prepared by Greg Baker.


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