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Who will be Australia’s Next Top Model?

Model behaviour: The Toyota HiLux utility has a chance at being Australia's top-selling vehicle this year, but it faces tough competition from the Mazda3 and stablemate Corolla.

Toyota HiLux closes in on Mazda3 in quest for top-model crown as Corolla bides time

General News logo10 Aug 2012

THE quest to find ‘Australia’s Next Top Model’ in the motor industry is hotting up this year, with a resurgent Toyota HiLux utility now within 1600 units of the Mazda3 small car after seven months of trading.

That leaves five months for more twists and turns in the marketplace, but on current form the HiLux is well placed to become the first Toyota model in memory and the first ute to claim the coveted title.

Toyota recorded 3044 sales for HiLux 4x4 last month (up 49 per cent), and together with a modest 1119 4x2 versions was more than 800 units clear of the Mazda3 (on 3355) as the nation’s number-one vehicle in July – its fourth successive month as the clear top model and its third in a row above 4000 units.

Year to date, HiLux has racked up 23,575 sales and is closing in on the Mazda3, which to the end of July had accumulated 25,168 new registrations to lead the field after taking the crown from the Holden Commodore last year.

With Commodore off the pace in 2012, Corolla is in third place with 22,011 sales YTD (up 20.4 per cent) and has a current-model run-out and fully redesigned new series still to come, raising the prospect of two Toyota models on the dais come December 31.

This would be a significant achievement for the Japanese auto giant, for although it has dominated as Australia’s biggest-selling brand since 2003 and ruled the roost in a variety of market segments, Toyota has never capped it off with the number-one model in the land.

 center imageFrom top: Mazda3 Toyota Corolla hatch Holden Commodore sedan.

Nine years ago, when Toyota won back market leadership from the Aussie lion brand, Holden was selling twice as many Commodores as Toyota’s top-selling Camry (86,553 to 38,540).

Despite massive declines since then, Commodore continued to lord over all other models, big and small, until last year’s 11.6 per cent fall to a new low-water mark of 40,617 units ended its 15-year reign and reduced it to second place behind the Mazda3 (41,429).

It was a stunning result for Mazda, the nation’s top full-line importer, which had consistently shifted more than 32,000 units of its acclaimed small car since the mid-2000s before upping the ante to 39,000 in 2010.

What made it remarkable was that the Mazda3 never looked to be a firm top-model prospect before last year, having never before outsold Corolla and only once beating HiLux, way back in 2005.

Without the setbacks from last year’s Thai flood disaster, HiLux, which finished third on 36,124 (just 37 units ahead of Corolla), would surely have threatened for first or second place overall and would not have sunk to just over 1000 units in January this year, leaving it almost 3000 sales in arrears of the Mazda3 after only the first stanza.

With Corolla, the Mazda3’s ascendancy last year was a bitter pill for Toyota management, who blamed the result on supply disruptions from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March and pointed to its segment leadership in January and, once supply had returned to normal, September through to December.

After all, Corolla had been Australia’s biggest-selling small car for the previous 11 years straight and for a string of years – from 2006 to 2010 – was second only to Commodore as the number-one nameplate.

But free from supply restrictions this year, Corolla sales of 22,011 cars YTD is more than 3000 units behind the Mazda3. Toyota has also not managed to claim small-car leadership in any given month.

Commodore, meanwhile, has continued to struggle, falling further this year to 18,259 units YTD – 25 per cent down on the same point last year – which is not only well behind Corolla, Mazda3 and HiLux, but also less than Holden’s own Australian-built Cruze small car (18,312).

Cruze was the fourth biggest-selling model in Australia last year on 33,784 (up 19.2 per cent), and looks set to topple Commodore as its best-seller this year.

As it stands now, 2012 has proven to be the ‘Year of the Level Playing Field’ in a buoyant and highly competitive market that has set up a fascinating battle for the number-one title as both the small-car and utility segments go from strength to strength and large cars continue to decline.

Last month, Australians bought just shy of 18,000 small cars, making it easily the biggest-selling segment in the country, with utilities in second place on 14,790.

Large cars were miles back – behind the small, medium and large SUV segments, and medium-sized cars – on 4576 units, leaving us in no doubt that Australia’s Next Top Model will be either a big ute or a small car.

Chances are it’ll be a model with a Toyota badge winking at the cameras, too.

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