New private car sales were down by 3.4 percent last year from 2000, according to figures released by the Association of Motor Vehicle Importers Representatives (SEAA) yesterday, with the slowdown especially manifest in the final quarter of the year. Economists said while the data pointed to slackening domestic demand at the end of the year, they also underscored the resilience of Greek consumers. Sluggish car sales were first noted by the National Statistics Service which reported consecutive declines in new vehicle registrations in October and November last year, as the Greek economy finally felt the bite of the global downturn. New private car registrations fell by a cumulative 3.3 percent during the first 10 months of 2001, in sharp contrast to double-digit growth in the two preceding years fueled by the 1999 stock market boom and the cheap consumer loans of the past two years. EFG Eurobank Ergasias economist Platon Monokroussos said the fall in new private car sales last year was «not excessive» given that sales had risen to historically high levels. He said the decline in car sales in 2001, especially at the close of the year, mirrored the general slowdown in domestic demand. «The slowdown, however, has not been so significant in historical terms and has not impacted on the resilience of Greek consumers,» Monokroussos argued. The Greek economy was expected to outpace the EU averages in 2001 on the back of strong consumer spending and the inflow of European Union structural funds. The same two factors are projected to keep the local economy growing this year, putting it ahead of other eurozone member states. A total of 280,212 new cars were sold last year compared with 290,216 in 2000, SEAA said. The year started on a strong note, with 29,440 cars sold in January, the highest monthly total for 2001. The worst sales were recorded in December, with just 12,478 vehicles taken up, marking a 12.3- percent fall from the same month in the previous year. The top-selling brand was General Motors’s Opel, with sales up by 23.5 percent to 29,021. South Korea’s Hyundai continued to draw the crowd with low prices and attractive financing schemes as it racked up 25,841 sales, although these were still down by 8.5 percent. Italian brand Fiat came in third place with 23,060 sales, down by 9.4 percent, followed by Japan’s Toyota in fourth place, with sales down by 14.2 percent to 22,620.