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Market Insight: Micro size, mega sales

Now you see it: Following a 270 per cent sales increase in 2021, the Mitsubishi Mirage has been axed due to non-compliance with new side impact protection requirements.

Kia, Fiat, Mitsubishi take the spoils as rivals walk away from the micro-car segment


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24 Jan 2022

CAR-MAKERS walked away from the pint-sized end of the new-car market as rising competition, the strengthening SUV genre and lacklustre buyer interest in little cars made it a difficult environment in which to make a buck.


But sales from 2021 show that, in a condensed market, it can be financially fruitful while adding a bit of theatre to a dealership’s showroom.


Tiny cars may not have been in vogue in the latter part of the 2010s, but the shrunken selection of three models still racked up 9528 sales in 2021 and achieved a 90.4 per cent increase over the previous year.


It was a far cry from 2015 when the OEMs delivering product into the now-called ‘micro’ segment of the passenger-car category numbered nine and offered 12 models.


By 2016, the wave had crested. Five OEMs had walked and taken their models out of the race. 


These were the Chinese brand Chery with the J1 hatch; Fiat’s Panda, which although lovable and bristling with practicality did not endear itself to sufficient numbers of Australians; the Smart ForTwo (perhaps too small and too expensive); Suzuki Alto (poor demand); and another cutey, the Volkswagen Up that went the previous year on the same buyer price-versus-size argument despite being the (then) cheapest European at $13,990.


A surprising thing about 2016 was that in the previous year, the signs were good that demand existed – for some players.


The Mitsubishi Mirage held 30 per cent of the micro-car market in 2016 with 3064 sales, while second-placed (and new entrant) Kia Picanto hinted at its future success with an 18.9 per cent market share (1934 sales) less than a year after its Australian launch.


Third-placed was the Holden Spark (17.2 per cent market share and 1760 sales) followed by the Fiat 500 and its Abarth performance variants with an 11.5 per cent share and 1178 sales for the 2016 year.


In 2021, Mitsubishi scored 23.1 per cent of the three-model micro-car segment, with 2198 sales before the Mirage was axed due to Australian Design Rule 85 coming into force and the little hatch being unable to comply with its side impact protection requirements. Remaining dealer stock is expected to be cleared within months.


Kia held the crown last year, although its share slipped. It had 69.2 per cent of the segment in 2021, down from 77.7 per cent in 2020, linked to supply hiccups because of the semiconductor shortage and some customer movement to the Mirage and Fiat 500/Abarth.


In fact, although buyer interest swung strongly to the micro-car segment in 2021, Kia lost ground at the expense of the sales impetus of the Mirage and the Fiat.


The smallest Mitsubishi lifted year-to-date sales in 2021 (compared with 2020) by a huge 270 per cent, and on a month-by-month basis, in December 2021 sold 466 Mirages, a rise over the previous December of 2118 per cent!


At the same time, the quiet Fiat 500/Abarth pairing sold 85 units in December, up from 46 in the same month of the previous year, and 739 for 2021.


While not staggering figures, the duo are the best-selling Italians on the Australian car market (Fiat Professional commercial vehicles sold 1277 units) to outsell Maserati (560 units) and Alfa Romeo (618 units).

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