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Market Insight: Import crown up for grabs

Top seller: Mazda's facelifted 3 range will be a key player in deciding which brand will take out the title for number one full-line vehicle importer.

Mazda and Hyundai neck and neck in race for 2011 importer bragging rights

10 Oct 2011

THE unofficial title of Australia’s top full-line vehicle importer looks set to go down to the wire this year, with Mazda and Hyundai ready to battle it out over the final quarter.

The rivals have both sold more than 65,000 vehicles so far this year, with Mazda edging out its Korean rival by just 826 sales – 65,955 to 65,129 – to the end of September.

This translates to an 8.76 per cent share of the market for Mazda against 8.65 per cent for Hyundai – sufficiently close for one good or bad month to make the difference.

The result might come down to who wants to force the market the most, and who has the stock to do it.

Mazda Australia managing director Doug Dickson recently predicted a “bloodbath” of discounting in the market over the last few months of the year as companies such as Toyota try to make up lost market share. And, despite Mazda’s carefully crafted brand image that eschews discounting, he indicated Mazda would not be left behind when he said: “Bring it on.”

In recent years, Hyundai has indulged in careful brand building of its own to elevate its lowly image as a purveyor of cheap cars, recently highlighting its five-star safety performance across the passenger car range – now that the four-star Getz has finally run out – and new sense of style with cars such as the i45.

However, no one expects the Korean company to walk away from a shot at the crown, and its “end of year sale” campaign now in full swing will ensure the company is well in the hunt.

Hyundai will have to challenge without its volume king, the now-defunct Getz, which was supplying about a quarter of Hyundai’s sales at this time last year.

128 center imageUpcoming models (from top): Mazda BT-50 and CX-5, Hyundai i30, Nissan Tiida replacement.

But with other models such as the Accent, i20 and new Elantra all shouldering more of the load and new models such as the i40 coming on stream, it has not missed a beat recently.

Thanks to a big September, in which its sales soared 22.7 per cent over the same month last year, Hyundai sales are now running 5.8 per cent ahead of last year.

By contrast, Mazda slipped into reverse in September, mainly because of a sales hangover in the wake of August’s big M Day push that drove the Japanese importer to record levels.

With its top-seller, the Mazda3, in run-out and stock in short supply after the Japanese earthquake earlier in the year, Mazda’s September sales were down 31.8 per cent, trimming its year-to-date gain to just 0.6 per cent.

Mazda’s Doug Dickson said he was expecting average stocks of the facelifted Mazda3 through the last quarter of 2011, which means Mazda dealers should have about 3200 of the small cars a month to fight with once supply ramps up.

Mazda is also getting set to introduce its new-generation BT-50 ute and, while this will generate lots of good vibes and plenty of customer inquiry, stock might be at a premium with Mazda distributors around the globe clamouring for their share.

Run-out BT-50 sales were already slowing noticeably last month, with the popular 4x4 model down 50 per cent.

The full force of Mazda’s new-model roll out is more likely to be felt in 2012, when the Mazda3 and BT-50 will be joined about March by the all-new CX-5 crossover – the first vehicle to employ a full suite of Mazda SkyActiv technologies, including chassis and body.

By mid-year, Hyundai will answer with an all-new i30 that was shown last month at the Frankfurt motor show, restoring its new best-seller to full strength.

Hyundai will be hoping the new, European-developed hatchback has what it takes to challenge the Mazda3 as Australia’s top-selling small car, and perhaps Australia’s number one vehicle outright.

While Mazda and Hyundai go toe to toe, another company has its eye on the same prize, at least from next year.

Nissan Australia has a stated goal of being Australia’s number one full-line importer by 2012 under its GT12 plan – a target reiterated last week by CEO Dan Thompson at an accessory manufacturing launch event.

The company still has a fair bit of ground to make up after selling 50,659 vehicles so far this year – about 15,000 behind its rivals. However, it has been closing the gap, with Nissan sales up 8.0 per cent on last year after the first three quarters of 2011.

The Nissan charge has been led by the popular Navara – number two in the ute market behind the dominant Toyota HiLux – which accounts for more than one in three Nissan sales in Australia. Although Nissan does sell 4x2 Navaras, most of its Navara sales volume is generated by the 4x4 versions, sales of which are up 7.5 per cent this year.

Navara has been supported this year by Nissan’s compact SUVs – the X-Trail and Dualis – which have enjoyed sales increases of 28.2 per cent and 34.4 per cent respectively.

The Dualis is the small car you have when you don’t have a small car of substance, with the unloved Tiida struggling along, down 41 per cent this year.

Nissan has indicated that the Tiida will be replaced by an all-new, larger small car – which GoAuto believes will revive the Pulsar nameplate in Australia – in the first quarter of 2013. Also in the pipeline are a new light sedan based on the Micra, and the new Patrol.

However, with the big-gun Tiida replacement not arriving until 2013, it is difficult to see how Nissan can close the gap in 2012 – calendar year or financial year.

With Navara facing off against a plethora of hot new contenders in the ute market, Nissan will have to pull out all the stops to shoulder Mazda and Nissan out of the way.

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