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Market Insight: Hybrids gather pace

Personal choice: Hybrid SUVs are more popular among private buyers than fleets and businesses purchasers in Australia, but the reverse is true for passenger cars.

Diesel passenger cars now outsold by hybrids as petrol-electric SUV popularity grows


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17 Mar 2020

ONE in 10 passenger cars sold in Australia so far this year were hybrids, a strong continuation of an upward trend that began in 2018 when their share of the total market reached 3.4 per cent – after years hovering around the 2.0 per cent mark – and accelerated to 6.7 per cent in 2019.


In 2019, sales of hybrid passenger cars overtook diesel for the first time and the swing has been hard enough so far this year that the proportion of petrol-powered passenger cars sold has taken an unprecedented dip below the 90 per cent marker, to 86.9 per cent.


Sales of hybrid SUVs have also taken off this year with 5.4 per cent of high-riders reported sold to the end of February having this propulsion system, compared with 1.9 per cent for the full year of 2019 – the first time hybrid SUV penetration exceeded one per cent.


Between 2018 and 2019, sales of petrol passenger cars, SUVs and light commercial vehicles dropped 13.6 per cent while diesel ones shrank 9.8 per cent in the same timeframe. But hybrids more than doubled from 14,328 reported deliveries in 2018 to 30,641 last year.


For the year to date, petrol is down 11.9 per cent, diesel is down 30.4 per cent and hybrids are up 154.9 per cent, contributing to a greater share of an overall market that is down 10.3 per cent.


When splitting the figures into private and fleet or business buyers, it is the former who are mopping up the biggest proportion of hybrid SUVs with 6.0 per cent opting for the electrified option in 2019 against 4.7 per cent of fleets and businesses.


This is reversed for passenger cars, with 12.5 per cent of fleets and businesses going for the hybrid compared with 7.9 per cent of private buyers.


Behind much of the upswing in hybrid sales is Toyota, which was responsible for 91 per cent of all hybrids sold in Australia both year-to-date and across 2019, equating to 7597 of the 8329 hybrids reported delivered to the end of February and 27,846 of last year’s 30,641 total.


Last month, hybrids accounted for more than a quarter of Toyota sales for the first time –  compared with 8.8 per a year prior – driven by popularity of petrol-electric variants of the RAV4 medium SUV (62.1 per cent hybrid), Camry mid-size sedan (61.2 per cent hybrid) and Corolla small hatch and sedan (51.9 per cent hybrid).


Toyota Australia vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley recently announced that increased supplies of hybrid variants had been secured for this market but hinted that the much-publicised waiting lists could continue.


“We successfully negotiated additional shipments of hybrid vehicles that will arrive throughout 2020, but even these higher supplies are under pressure due to the unprecedented popularity of hybrids,” he said.


According to figures supplied by Toyota Australia, hybrids made up between 3.9 per cent and 4.2 per cent of the brand’s model mix between 2014 and 2017, before rising to 5.3 per cent in 2018 and then 13.5 per cent last year. Its year-to-date hybrid mix stands at 23.4 per cent.


Meanwhile, Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus has largely travelled in the opposite direction, from a rich 43 per cent mix of hybrids in 2014, which subsequently declined each year to just 27 per cent in 2019, although year-to-date hybrids have recovered to 30 per cent of the Lexus total.


Hybrid drivetrains remain absent from the LCV sector, although the Renault Kangoo battery-electric vehicle (BEV) managed to singlehandedly increase the tiny market share of pure-electric LCVs from 0.01 per cent in 2018 and 2019, to 0.03 per cent YTD.


Across other sectors, among passenger vehicles penetration of BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) inched from 0.17 per cent in 2018 to 0.34 per cent in 2019 and gathered pace YTD with 0.49 per cent.


BEVs and PHEVs accounted for 0.14 per cent of SUVs sold in 2018, then 0.38 per cent last year, but have dropped back to 0.31 per cent so far in 2020.


Tesla does not publish Australian sales figures, so has not been included in this analysis, but is estimated to have sold around 3500 cars here in 2019 – most of which were initial deliveries of the Model 3 mid-size sedan – more than doubling the 2925 combined BEV/PHEV sales recorded by VFACTS and earning plug-in vehicles an overall market share of 0.62 per cent.


Without Tesla taken into account, combined BEV/PHEV sales in Australia are up 84.6 per cent YTD, on 454 units.

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