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Market Insight: Flight of the underdogs

You’ll do: The Kia Stinger has hit a sales record while other undeservedly unpopular models find success as shortages turn buyers’ heads in a new direction.

How once-ignored cars have become popular because of the COVID-19 pandemic


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15 Mar 2022

THE car market, like a potholed road, may not be smooth and equal when the weather is sunny and dry but the holes will fill with water and the surface become level in the harsher environment of a wet winter.


For the past year at least, the car market has been in wet weather. The market, like the roads, is flattening and brands and models once dismissed by punters are now seeing solid sales.


This isn’t because the models have suddenly changed. Most haven’t changed in years.


The reason is the lack of new vehicles. The delays in delivery of vehicles – caused by the ongoing effects of the pandemic that has affected production and transportation, plus the related semiconductor shortage – is making car-hungry buyers look to other brands for their next ride.


Monthly sales data provided by VFACTS shows there are some spikes of interest in cars normally classed as a bit passe or – more likely – underdogs in comparison with the popular rivals.


As buyers fail to get a delivery date or choose not to accept long waits on new vehicles, they tend to look around at competitor brands – or alternative models in the showroom – that they had previously not given a second or even third thought.


There are some interesting examples but we shall start with the Nissan Patrol – the V8 petrol one that has always played second fiddle to the Toyota LandCruiser.


The LandCruiser 300 came up against a wall of delivery issues from the day it was launched, then aggravated by Toyota cutting production and the semiconductor issue gnawing at its ankles. In Japan, the 300 wait list is four years and in Australia, depending on the grade, a factory-quoted eight months.


Some buyers walked out of the Toyota showroom and into a Nissan dealer. Sure, Nissan had its own issues with semiconductors and even stopped Patrol production in October 2021.


But sales in February this year were up 101.8 per cent on the same month in 2021 as 670 Patrol wagons found buyers, up from 332 last February.


Toyota 300 Series sales for February, crippled by production issues, were 612 units, down 53.8 per cent from the 1326 units – albeit of the 200 Series – sold in February 2021.


Small and medium SUV buyers probably know little about the GWM Haval brand and even less about its surprisingly sensible H6 until a search for a new SUV led them to one of its showrooms.


H6 sales were in the teens a few years ago and the second-generation model has made a big difference to its value and desirability, but even in February 2021 the Chinese company sold a relatively lacklustre 79 of them in Australia.


Fast forward to February 2022 and the H6 sold 324 units, mostly on the back of value for money and the fact that GWM was barely affected by transport or semiconductor problems, making stock readily available.


It was the same at LDV, which makes vans and utes and a good-value SUV called the D90. Its sales were 50 in February 2018 and slipped down to 28 a couple of years later. 


This February it sold a huge 297 units and, like fellow Chinese maker GWM, this was mainly because stock was available.


Then there’s the Kia Stinger, the car that everyone wants to have when they don’t have to drive an SUV. 


It sold 314 units in February – a record for the model – and almost double how it has been performing each February since 2018.


This, at a time when rumours persist that Kia aims to drop the Stinger because of weak sales – and when the company reports its all-electric EV6 has garnered more early interest than the rear-drive performance liftback that had launched at a seemingly perfect time to replace the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon in the hearts, minds and driveways of buyers.

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