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Market Insight: Small is still big business

Little athletics: Mazda3 has dominated March’s small-car sales, and sales overall, but the newer Nissan Pulsar (left) is off to a strong start.

Mazda3 still number one as Australia's favourite vehicle segment stays strong

Market Insight logo12 Apr 2013

KEEN to get a slice of Australia’s biggest new-car market segment? You’ll have to think small.

That’s certainly happened at Nissan, where the reborn Pulsar has already cemented a big slice of the small-car sales pie.

In March, more than 1600 of Nissan’s completely redesigned small sedan rolled out of showrooms according to VFACTS data, making it the 10th most popular car sold in Australia last month.

That is even before the hatchback version, expected in early June, and the warmed-over SSS models, hit showrooms.

Nissan public relations and corporate communications manager Peter Fadeyev said it was still too early to say if the Pulsar was selling purely on the strength of its name.

“It’s a very difficult question to answer, but our research shows the Pulsar name resonated very well with Australian small-car buyers years after it had been replaced by the Tiida name,” Mr Fadeyev said.

“I think on balance the Pulsar vehicle should be credited with sales success because it has a very good blend of generous product specification and driveway pricing - it delivers that good balance.” Pulsar sold so well in March that it bumped Australia’s once long-running bestseller, the Holden Commodore, out of the monthly top 10 models for the first time in the car’s 36-year history.

Holden has double the reason to leave the champagne in the fridge after March also saw its other locally made model, the Cruze, lose more market share.

The Cruze hatchback and sedan, and imported wagon range has fallen almost 19 per cent compared with March last year. Convert that figure to cumulative sales so far this year, and that decline jumps to 30 per cent compared with last year.

128 center imageFrom top: Holden Cruze, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30. Holden’s senior manager of communications, Shayna Welsh, said the softer result of Cruze ahead of a radically redesigned version that started rolling into dealerships last week was expected.

“We’ll be hopeful that our numbers will start to pick up after that,” Ms Welsh said. “The new Cruze has a lot more content than the outgoing one, and we’ve even cut the price of the entry-level model.” However, she said the number of new entrants in the small-car class and the fierce competition for buyers, along with problems associated with the changeover to a new ordering system, were still having an effect.

The darling of the market so far this year, though, is still the ageing Mazda3.

Mazda sold more than 3700 of its sedan and hatchback small cars in March, taking the title as Australia’s most popular car for the month.

That was also despite sales softening by almost one per cent compared with March last year, and sales for the first three months of this year falling almost 10 per cent.

An all-new Mazda3 wearing a full suite of the Japanese car-maker’s SkyActiv fuel-saving technology is expected late this year.

Toyota’s Corolla is still tracking well, despite the Japanese car-maker having only a half a new model range.

It held second place behind the Mazda3, posting more than 3500 sales for the month and growing market share.

The small hatchback was updated last year with fresh, futuristic looks, while the sedan is set to carry on wearing its pre-update face until sometime early next year.

Sales of Toyota’s Prius V people-mover doubled that of its long-running environmental hero, the Prius, to peg 82 sales for the month.

Honda’s Civic sedan, petrol-electric hybrid and hatch range sold almost 1400 units in March, while its hybrid cousin, the Insight, sold just four.

The Japanese car-maker will next week add a diesel drivetrain to its Civic hatch, giving it an engine that should give a little more rolling sparkle than the long-serving 1.8- and 2.0-litre petrol four-cylinders it has traditionally used.

Hyundai is also tracking well in the segment, selling almost 2600 cars during March. The Korean car-maker rolled out a new-look version of its wagon early this year to join the hatchback.

Sales last month were kicked along by the brand’s “i-Sale” campaign offering $1000 off across all models.

Pitch in the 870-plus sales of the Elantra sedan as well, and Hyundai public relations general manager Bill Thomas said the brand’s small car range had performed quite well.

“The market is quite buoyant at the moment,” he said.

Small cars dominate the Australian car-buying landscape, accounting for almost one in four showroom sales so far this year, the VFACTS data shows.

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