A RECORD year for private passenger car sales last year saw the Inchcape group and its prime Toyota distributorship maintain its lead at the top of the table of car marques by a wide margin. But there was some jockeying for position on the grid behind Inchcape/Toyota through Inchcape's Crown Motors subsidiary. Honda and Mazda were left battling it out for second position with Mitsubishi moving up to fourth as Nissan and Daihatsu each slipped a couple of positions. Ford (Sime Darby), with a tremendously strong showing in the market, also moved into the top 10 marques for the first time in recent years, replacing Saab in ninth position. In the prestige car market, Mercedes-Benz recovered strongly from its 1992 sales slump and again pulled well ahead of BMW in terms of cars sold. But the euphoria for distributors could be short-lived, with the government likely to act in next week's budget to try to slow the number of private cars getting on to local roads. Although the government has acknowledged the failure of its taxing policies to stem private car sales, there is likely to be another increase in the First Registration Tax, as well as licence fees. Petrol taxes could also go up after the motor sales industry escaped rather lightly in last year's budget. Overall total private passenger car sales for 1992 were up 33 per cent to 39,501 cars from 29,713 in 1991 and 31 per cent on the previous record, or 30,133 sales, in 1989. This is in line with the total private car registrations reported by the government of 41,878, up from 31,131 in 1991. There were also a further 3,071 taxis sold with Inchcape/Toyota, and its Crown model, dominating sales, accounting for 2,701 of total sales - a taxi market share of 88 per cent. Many in the industry have complained that margins have tightened rather than widened, despite the booming market. The tightening of margins has been particularly hard on the smaller distributors in the local market who have faced stiff price competition from the bigger marques. Inchcape and its Crown Motors offshoot again dominated the market with Toyota (including Lexus), accounting for 21.6 per cent of all private passenger car sales. Total Toyota sales were up 35 per cent last year compared with 1991. Cars under Toyota's own name accounted for 8,016 for those with the ever-popular Corolla, Camry and Crown models doing well. At the luxury end, Lexus continued to perform strongly, selling 509 cars compared with 324 in 1991 and just 194 in 1990. Taken on its own, the Mazda marque - also distributed by Inchcape - slipped into second position with 4,709 cars sold and an 11.9 per cent market share. Add to that the relatively new Eunos line, with 163 sales, and the total Mazda sales were 3,650 cars, a rise of 33 per cent over 1991, for a total market share of 12.3 per cent. But with a tremendous recovery in sales, it was Honda, distributed by the Dah Chong Hong group, that made the big comeback last year and probably pipped Mazda for second position overall. Cars sold under the Honda name totalled 4,403, well up on the 1991 figures and giving the Japanese marque a basic 11.1 per cent share. But, if the 562 Acura sales are added to this total, Honda records sales figures of 4,965 units, a rise of 62.6 per cent on 1991 for a 12.5 per cent market share. As the accompanying table shows, Mitsubishi, distributed in the territory by Sime Darby, also had a tremendous year, leap-frogging both Nissan and Daihatsu in sales. It sold 3,876 passenger cars last year compared with 2,174 in 1991 for a 9.8 per cent market share. This compares with Nissan's 9.4 per cent (3,725 cars) and Daihatsu's 8.1 per cent (3,190 cars). Mercedes-Benz, with its new S series, again became the best-selling European and luxury marque on the market with sales of 2,910, up from 1,317 in 1991. Distributed by Jardine International, this represented a 7.4 per cent market share. BMW, another Sime Darby distributorship, could not keep pace with Benz and sold 1,877 cars for a 4.8 per cent market share. Ford, which is distributed again by Sime Darby and sells mainly Ford Europe products, was the real surprise of the year with sales of 1,447 passenger cars. It also displaced Saab in the top 10 car sales. This was despite Saab's sales of 1,367 - a 30 per cent rise on the 1991 figure. Overall, the top 10 makes accounted for 93 per cent of the local passenger car market, leaving little for the others seeking a share of sales. Indeed, outside the big 10, the other marques have struggled to make any inroads into the local market at all. But, given the overall buoyancy of the car market last year, most of them had a better sales year. Among the exceptions were Volvo, Volkswagen, Rover and Alfa Romeo, which saw sales decline. But groups as diverse as Audi, Citroen, Renault, Jaguar, Maserati, Opel, Porsche and Suzuki all had better sales years. What about that classic status symbol of the Hongkong car market, the Rolls-Royce? Well, it, too, had a good year with total sales of 38 vehicles. That is up 36 per cent on 1991 sales of 28 cars and takes the Roller back to its 1989 sales level. There is nothing like a good share market boom to push up the sales of the Rolls.