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New in 2019: Passenger cars continue decline

Passenger cars becoming less popular but key releases still set for 2019

29 Jan 2019

IN THE first full year following the shuttering of high-volume Australian car manufacturing, the decline of passenger cars accelerated, with sales down 15.9 per cent in 2018.
However, the 378,413 passenger cars that found homes last year still accounted for 32.8 per cent of the 1,153,111 vehicles sold overall in a market that contracted by 3.0 per cent year-on-year.
As such, there are still plenty of sales to be had in this segment, with both mainstream and premium brands this year preparing a steady onslaught of new passenger cars that could slow the rapid growth of SUVs.
Mainstream passenger cars
The small and mid-size segments are set to command most of the attention at the mainstream end of the market in 2019, although the surprising buoyant micro class will be boosted by a significant arrival, while the struggling large segment is scheduled to have just one debut.
After putting a stranglehold on the micro class after its arrival three years ago, Kia’s Picanto will move the game on again with the release of its turbocharged GT flagship in January.
With a 74kW/172Nm 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission to play with, the GT is likely to drum up more interest in the Picanto that owned a massive 69.0 per cent of its segment in 2018.
The Korean brand is scheduled to also be a factor in the shrinking small class in January, with it to expand its fourth-generation Cerato line-up with a hatch body style and a GT grade.
Priced identically to its sedan counterpart that was released in June last year, the critical hatch is expected to be responsible for about 70 per cent of the model’s sales.
Conversely, Toyota is set to launch the sedan version of its new-generation small car in the fourth quarter, which follows the Corolla hatch that entered showrooms in August 2018.
With a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain available for the first time, the Corolla sedan will look to appeal to buyers with its strong fuel economy.
The environmentally conscious may also be tempted by the Japanese brand’s facelifted Prius that is scheduled to go on sale in April.
With dramatic revisions made to its polarising styling, the Prius is much more conservative to look at than before, with only minor upgrades otherwise made.
However, one of the biggest debuts of 2019 will undoubtedly be that of the fourth-generation Mazda3, which is set to enter showrooms in the middle of the year.
Armed with a sporty new design, new advanced driver-assist systems and the world’s first mass-production compression-ignition petrol engine, Mazda’s best-selling model will be ready to conquer the sales charts again.
Fellow Japanese brand Nissan is scheduled to also make some noise in the small segment, but its overdue Leaf electric vehicle that arrives mid-year will likely be competing for smaller volumes.
Originally planned to go on sale in the fourth quarter last year, the second-generation Leaf has been subject to production delays forced by strong overseas demand from more progressive markets.
Ford is set to complete its fourth-generation Focus line-up in the first half of 2019 with the release of the SUV-inspired Active and flagship Titanium variants.
Riding 30mm higher than the regular grades, the Active adopts tougher styling and a more rugged interior, while the Titanium steps up LED lighting, heated front seats and wireless smartphone charging.
Meanwhile, the dwindling mid-size class is scheduled to receive a lift from Ford’s recently revealed facelifted Mondeo in the second quarter.
Aside from its fresh look, the Mondeo picks up new diesel engines, an eight-speed automatic transmission and an expanded suite of advanced driver-assist systems.
Honda is set to finally sell the 10th-generation version of its long-standing Accord, which was outed 18 months ago and is pencilled in for the fourth quarter.
While turbo-petrol and hybrid powertrains are available overseas, the Accord’s local line-up is yet to confirmed, but upgraded technology and infotainment are assured.
Hyundai and Volkswagen are scheduled to update their mid-sizers, the Sonata and Passat, in the second half and fourth quarter respectively, but details on either model have not been released yet.
Skoda is also preparing a yet-to-be-revealed facelift for its third-generation Superb – the only launch confirmed for the large segment.
What’s coming
Kia Picanto GT – January
Ford Focus Active/Titanium – H1
Kia Cerato hatch – January
Mazda3 – mid-year
Nissan Leaf – mid-year
Toyota Corolla sedan – Q4
Toyota Prius – April
Ford Mondeo – Q2
Honda Accord – Q4
Hyundai Sonata – H2
Volkswagen Passat – Q4
Skoda Superb – October
Premium passenger cars
As always, there is set to be plenty action at the premium end of the market next year, with several passenger cars to launch across all classes, including a couple of key models.
Audi’s second-generation A1 Sportback is the only premium light car scheduled to enter showrooms in 2019, arriving in the middle of the year with a more aggressive design but without its forebear’s three-door body style.
Conversely, Mercedes-Benz alone is set to release three models into the small segment, with the A180 hatch set for the first quarter, while the first-generation A-Class sedan and third-generation B-Class wagon are scheduled for the second quarter.
The mechanically related trio covers all bases in the class for the German brand, with each model featuring its MBUX infotainment system that supports always-on natural voice control.
BMW is set to release its i3 120Ah electric vehicle into the small segment in February, with the new variant offering 260km of ‘everyday’ driving range, up 60km over its 94Ah predecessor.
Mercedes-Benz is also scheduled to make its presence felt in the mid-size class with the second-generation CLA coupe-style sedan that uses the same running gear as its aforementioned siblings.
However, rival BMW is set to hog the premium market’s spotlight when it launches its critical seventh-generation 3 Series sedan in March.
Riding on a new lightweight platform and packing more technology than before, the 3 Series sedan will look to reassert itself as a driver’s vehicle when it enters the fray.
Equally significant will be the long-awaited arrival of Tesla’s Model 3 electric vehicle, with customer deliveries scheduled to begin in the middle of the year.
With right-hand-drive production yet to commence, it is unclear what versions of the Model 3 will initially be available in Australia, but the American brand has promised it will be its most affordable vehicle to date.
Volvo is also set to make a splash in the mid-size segment when it releases its third-generation S60 sedan and second-generation V60 wagon in the fourth and third quarter respectively.
Built on the Swedish brand’s SPA architecture, the twins are available with a pair of plug-in hybrid powertrains, one of which produces a sportscar-like 309kW of power.
Stepping up to the large class, Audi is scheduled to launch its fifth-generation A6 sedan in the second quarter, with it headlined by its new MMI Touch dual touchscreen infotainment system.
Mercedes-Benz is set to complete its CLS coupe-style sedan range in the first quarter, with the entry-level CLS350 and mild-hybrid AMG CLS53 flagship to bookend the existing line-up.
At long last, Hyundai Motor Group’s luxury brand, Genesis, is scheduled to open the doors to its first standalone dealership in the first quarter, with the Kia Stinger-related G70 and Hyundai Genesis-succeeding G80 to enter the large and upper-large segments respectively.
The G70 will appeal to sportscar buyers with its 272kW/510Nm 3.3-litre twin-turbocharged V6 engine, while the G80 will instead target luxury customers with its numerous high-end appointments.
What’s coming
Audi A1 Sportback – mid-year
BMW i3 120Ah – February
Mercedes-Benz A180 – Q1
Mercedes-Benz A-Class sedan – Q2
Mercedes-Benz B-Class – Q2
BMW 3 Series sedan – March
Mercedes-Benz CLA – H2
Tesla Model 3 – mid-year
Volvo S60 – Q4
Volvo V60 – Q3
Audi A6 sedan – Q2
Genesis G70 – March
Mercedes-AMG CLS53 – Q1
Mercedes-Benz CLS350 – Q1
Genesis G80 – March

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