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Market Insight: Ute sales underpin leading brands

Lynchpin: Triton sales account for more than a third of Mitsubishi’s total sales, and the company will be hoping its new-generation version can push it to even an even higher level.

Big-name car brands look to latest utilities to bolster overall sales volume

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Market Insight logo4 May 2015

By TERRY MARTIN

UTES are second only to small cars as the biggest-selling segment on the Australian new-vehicle market, and for some big-name brands their imported pick-ups have become the most important vehicles in their showrooms.

This is true for Mitsubishi with its Triton, and Ford with the Ranger, while Toyota’s market-leading HiLux is not far down the road behind Corolla and regularly in contention as the biggest-selling vehicle on the entire market.

Nissan, too, has long relied heavily on its Navara – easily its biggest-selling vehicle in recent years but taking a back seat to the resurgent X-Trail in the first quarter of 2015 – and Volkswagen’s Amarok, now the second-biggest seller in the German brand’s stable, has helped dispel the notion of VW simply being the ‘Golf Car Company’.

So a huge amount is riding on these light trucks in a year when significant new models are muscling their way in and have the potential to shake up the marketplace.

The 4x2 pick-up and cab-chassis sector is struggling, perhaps reflecting current fragile levels of business confidence, but the higher-volume 4x4 class is thriving, up 10 per cent after the first quarter with Triton in run-out and as other key models improve their sales performance.

While VW kicked things off with a useful model year update for Amarok in January, which brought immediate success on the sales charts, the new-generation Triton released last week has upped the ante considerably.

On its tail is a similarly full-scale redesign to Navara – the first wave of which arrives during May – and a comprehensively updated Ranger coming later in the year.

Expect major revisions at some point to the Mazda BT-50, which is related to Ranger, while the more narrow-focused Isuzu Ute (with only two model lines to manage) is working hard to keep buyer interest on the boil with its strong-selling D-Max.

Ditto for Holden with its related Colorado, which received a pull-through late last year but – as GoAuto revealed exclusively in February – there is a much bigger story coming down the highway courtesy of The General’s Australian development team.

A new-generation HiLux is also in the works but might not reach the market until early next year.

Mitsubishi management would not be drawn on divulging sales targets for the new Triton, which accounts for more than a third of its total sales, but the company is continuing to sell the popular long-running MN model with the new MQ series until supplies run dry around August.

Some 6000 new registrations in the first quarter of the year for Triton – the 4x4 range is up 80 per cent on the same period in 2014 – shows in no uncertain terms how significant the vehicle has become for the triple-diamond brand, which is on record sales pace overall (since it became a full-line importer in 2008) despite heading southward in passenger car segments.

The utes from all manufacturers in the segment provide important sales volume, but Mitsubishi’s reliance on Triton – soaking up 35 per cent of its total sales last year – was the highest among the top-selling brands with broad model lines.

Ford was close behind on 33 per cent with Ranger – a reflection, in part, of the sad state of affairs with the Blue Oval brand’s locally produced models – while Navara accounted for 24 per cent of Nissan’s total volume.

Toyota’s dominance in a variety of segments saw HiLux take ‘only’ a 19 per cent share of the market-leading brand’s total sales last year on the flipside, though, Colorado’s 17 per cent of total Holden sales were, we dare say, nowhere near as much as the lion brand would have liked.

Perhaps surprisingly, Amarok’s 15 per cent share of total VW sales last year was greater than the BT-50’s 13 per cent slice of Mazda’s volume, which relies less on its ute than any other full-line brand.

The BT was its fourth-best seller in 2015 – behind the Mazda3, CX-5 and Mazda2 – whereas all its key rivals (bar one) were in the top one or two for their respective brand.

That one exception was Colorado, which was pipped for second by the struggling locally built Cruze, as Commodore dominated the field.

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