Sales of domestically assembled cars in Vietnam rose 19 percent in 2013, the Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers Association (VAMA) said.

As many as 110,519 vehicles were sold in 2013. The sales of sport utility vehicles (SUV) and multi-purpose vehicles (MPV) registered the highest growth rate of 39 percent, followed by the passenger cars and commercial vehicles segments, which saw growth rates of 28.7 percent and three percent, respectively.

The latest data, which excludes adjustments for seasonal factors, came from VAMA, which comprises the country's 18 leading car makers.

The recovery in demand last year was aided by a brighter economic outlook, attractive financing deals, price discounts and lower car registration fees.

The results surpassed the industry group's forecast of 10 percent for the entire year and marked a strong rebound in one of the smallest auto market in the region after years of stagnating growth.

In December alone, local auto makers sold 13,205 units, a year-on-year increase of 32 percent.

"This is the ninth consecutive month that industry volume has been higher than the corresponding period last year," said VAMA chairman Jesus Metelo Arias in a statement released late last week.

While the increase in December sales can be attributed to the peaking of the traditional shopping season towards the year-end, recent attractive discounts offered by auto makers have also helped improve sales, industry insiders said.

To revive the market after its prolonged slow growth phase, most car makers reduced their retail prices by between 6 million VND (295 USD) and 58 million VND (3,330 USD).

While Toyota cut the price on its popular Corolla Altis sedan by 6 million VND, GM's Cruze Sedan was cheaper by 30 million VND.

Mitsubishi offered a whopping 58 million VND discount, the largest across car manufacturers, on its Pajero Sport model, while slashing the price of its Triton pickup truck by 40 million VND.

Even Suzuki, a Japanese car maker that rarely offers discounts, decreased the price of its compact Swift model by 30 million VND.

Some car manufacturers also offered promotional gifts, such as free car insurance, free car tuning service packages and installment payment options at preferential interest rates.

In addition, the government's decision to lower the registration fee, issued in March 2013, contributed to increased demand in the market, even during difficult economic times.

Most cities and provinces have reduced the registration fees to 10 percent of the value of the vehicles. Ho Chi Minh City reduced the registration fee to 10 percent as of January 1, 2014, while Hanoi cut the car tax to 12 percent, which is still the highest registration fee in the country.

The growth in sales was helped by a 32 percent surge in demand in December, VAMA said.

The surprising 2013 sales have prompted VAMA to revise upwards this year's estimate of vehicle sales to 120,000 units, according to VAMA chairman Jesus Metelo Arias.

Auto imports were up last year as well in Vietnam, making one of the smallest auto markets in the region also one of the few markets to post a growth in imports, despite a global economic downturn.

The Vietnam auto market in 2013 also experienced a strong increase in the imports of completely built-up units (CBUs). As many as 34,500 CBUs valued at 709 million USD were imported into the country, up 25.9 percent in volume and 15.2 percent in value year-on-year, according to the General Department of Statistics.

However, the number of vehicles imported this year is lower than in 2011, when 54,600 units valued at over 1 billion USD were imported.

Imports are expected to increase in 2014 after the government cut the import tax on cars from ASEAN countries to 50 percent, effective from January 1 this year.

The tax cut is in compliance with Vietnam signing the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA).

While ASEAN countries are not centres for automobile production, there are some large manufacturing giants, such as Japan's Toyota and Honda.

Statistics by the Customs Office revealed that 8,826 cars, valued at nearly 150 million USD, were imported into Vietnam from Thailand and Indonesia in the first 11 months of 2013, more than double the imports in the same period in 2012.-VNA