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Market Insight: Small cars outsold by SUV equivalents

Exit: A decade ago Australians had a choice of 45 small car models – there are now only 17, with one of the departures being the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.

Trend toward SUVs continues to bite into Australia’s traditional small hatch market


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23 May 2022

ONCE the mainstay of the Australian car market from the 1980s through to the emergence of the SUV, the small car genre has been increasingly battered by buyer trends placing SUVs above sedans and hatchbacks.


The downward slide of the small car sector has also been ravaged by its own makers, as manufacturers quickly pick up on trends to SUVs and downsize the high-riding wagon format to slot into buyer preferences.


In the past 10 years, small car sales have plunged 66 per cent. In 2013, the emerging small SUV sector represented only 24 per cent of small-segment sales.


To the end of April this year, the small car segment achieved just 45 per cent of the sales of the combined volume of Australia’s small and light SUV sectors.


Where the 2012 and 2013 list of small cars totaled 45 models (31 valued at less than $40,000, 14 at more than $40,000), it now has 26. But of the 26, this year has seen – or will see – the exit of at least seven models. 


Outgoing models this year, either leaving the building completely or awaiting a replacement, are the Toyota Prius, Hyundai’s Elantra and Ioniq, Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Peugeot 308. 


The Ioniq, incidentally, has seen a flurry of sales on its deathbed as fleets pick up on the cessation of the car and order up remaining stocks. Sales of the electrified model leapt 205.5 per cent YTD April to 333 units compared with 109 units sold in the same corresponding period of 2021.


In 2012, the list of small-car models including some long gone to dust. Remembered fondly, or otherwise, were the Chery J3, Dodge Caliber, Holden Cruze and Volt, Kia Soul, Mitsubishi Lancer, Opel Astra, Toyota Rukus and three Protons – Gen.2, Persona and Preve.


By 2017, the number of players shrunk to 42 and MG made its foray with the MG6, but by 2019 the small SUV sector – with 37 models – had 43,494 sales in the first four months, 12,000 units behind the small car category.


In 2019, cracks appeared with the exit of models including the Chery, Dodge, Holden Cruze, Opel and Proton. Models remaining in the small-car category numbered 34.


The small SUV sector had 37 entrants led by the Mitsubishi ASX (18.9 per cent segment share); Mazda CX-3 (12.6 per cent); and Honda HR-V (10.4 per cent).


Since then, the small car experience has slipped. This year there are 32 small SUVs with the best seller being the MG ZS (7220 sales for an 18.2 per cent share) and then the Mazda CX-30 (6211 sales), ASX (4178 sales) and Hyundai Kona (4118 sales). These four had 21,731 sales in the four months.


By comparison, there are 17 small car models. Sales in the first four months total 28,079 units, led by the Hyundai i30 (7924 sales); Toyota Corolla (7239); Kia Cerato (4641); and Mazda3 (3823). Their combined sales are 23,627


These four command 91.1 per cent of the sub-$40,000 bracket, which leaves the other 13 players fighting over the remaining 2154 sales. And 13 does not divide into 2154 without some financial pain.

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