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Market Insight: Renault enjoys highest growth rate

How Megane: Pretty well, as it turns out, with sales of Renault’s once controversial small car racing ahead in 2011.

French brand Renault finally gains some traction in the Australian market

21 Nov 2011

MARKET conditions have been tough in Australia this year, but a number of niche brands have managed to post significant growth – headed by the consistently underachieving French brand Renault with a sales increase of 89.8 per cent.

Other brands making a move in 2011 include Skoda (up 64.6 per cent), Dodge (up 61.2 per cent), SsangYong (up 40 per cent) and Jeep (up 32.6 per cent).

GoAuto’s rankings list reflects the dominance of light commercial vehicles and SUVs in the local market, with six of the top eight brands primarily selling vehicles in those strong segments.

Renault is still a long way from the ambitious – and often ridiculed – target of 20,000 the company set a decade ago when it returned to the Australian market, but it finally seems to be on the path to redemption under new management.

Renault has sold 2823 vehicles to the end of October this year compared with only 1487 in the same period last year, thanks largely to the introduction of the Megane-based Fluence sedan and Laguna-replacing Latitude, and a massive boost from the latest-generation Megane, including a Renault Sport model.

That puts Renault on track to sell about 3400 by the end of the year, which would be its highest tally since 2002 – its first full year back in Australia, when it invested the best part of $60 million to reach 4565 sales.

128 center imageFrom top: Dodge Caliber, Volkswagen Amarok, Isuzu D-Max and Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Instead of growing, though, Renault quickly went downhill, dropping 30.4 per cent the following year and never really recovering. In fact, sales dipped an alarming 33.0 per cent in 2009 (to 2400 units) and a further 20.5 per cent in 2010 (to 1907 units), when new managing director Justin Hocevar stepped in to reverse the trend.

Helped by a raft of new models, the introduction of a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty (the first for a European brand), new staff at head office and the launch of Renault Financial Services with low interest rates, Renault’s fortunes suddenly turned and have accelerated all year. Next year could be the company’s best in Australia since the glory days of the 1970s when it built cars locally.

And they must be doing something right over at the Volkswagen Group, too, because both the Skoda and VW brands are in our top 10 for growth (based on figures supplied by VFACTS, for brands that have sold more than 1000 vehicles to the end of October).

VW is ninth on the GoAuto list and the only volume-seller to make the top 10 – with 37,303 sales year-to-date compared with the next-highest, newcomer Great Wall with 7050 – a remarkable achievement for such a well-established brand.

VW has benefitted from the launch of the Amarok ute, which has accounted for one-third of the brand’s increase in 2011, but customers have responded to sharp pricing on the Golf, which has raced ahead by 3625 sales to 16,606. Golf now accounts for almost half of all VW sales locally.

Like Renault, Czech brand Skoda is coming off a relatively low base and shows signs of gaining some traction after only a couple of years in Australia, lifting sales 64.6 per cent this year to 2239, mainly through a big lift for the acclaimed Superb large car and the introduction of the Yeti compact SUV.

Chrysler Group brands Dodge (fourth with a 61.2 per cent rise) and Jeep (sixth with 32.6 per cent) both make our top 10, although the Chrysler badge itself continues to drop alarmingly, being down 39.6 per cent YTD. Last month, only 18 Chryslers were sold nationally.

Dodge used a massively heavy marketing stick on its boxy Caliber compact SUV mid-year – slashing an incredible $6500 from the price to bring the entry level down to just $23,500 – and customers responded to this bargain offer. Dodge went from selling an average of five Calibers a month to shifting some 884 units in only five months. Clearly the company was well-prepared with strong stock levels.

Gaining market share was a simpler exercise for Jeep, where the launch of the all-new Grand Cherokee in February lifted sales of the off-roader by more than 500 per cent, accounting for all of Jeep’s volume increase for 2011.

Isuzu Ute also used the marketing stick to lift sales of its aging D-Max utes by 29.4 per cent YTD – offering value-added package deals to send the GM-based pick-ups racing out of showrooms in its run-out year before the arrival of an all-new Colorado-based model.

Chinese brand Great Wall makes our top 10, as expected, with a 28.6 per cent increase this year thanks to the V-series ute, proving that Australian buyers are happy to forego safety if the price is right.

Higher sales of Great Wall’s petrol-powered V240 (in the wake of dropping the old SA220 ute) accounted for 1300 of the brand’s 1500 sales growth for the year, while the new diesel-powered V200 variant contributed more than 500 sales after being launched in August. Sales of the X-series SUV were stable.

Consistent rises across the Land Rover range, for no apparent reason, resulted in a rise of 20.3 per cent for the Indian-owned British brand, which can look forward to substantial growth next year from the new compact Range Rover Evoque.

Rounding out our top 10 is Fiat, which lifted 11.3 per cent but barely made our 1000-unit cut-off with 1251 sales to the end of October. That was a rise of 127 units over 2011, so Fiat can thank the sporty Abarth edition of the little 500 for the increase as it has sold 167 units since the sub-brand was launched here in March.

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