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NZ sales: Kiwi car market hits record high

Blue skies: Ford’s Ranger was the top-selling vehicle in New Zealand last year, but the Blue Oval brand still had to settle for second place in the marketplace overall, with Toyota some 10,000 units in the clear.

NZ new-car sales finish just shy of 147,000 units last year, up 9.5 per cent on 2015

10 Jan 2017

THE New Zealand motor industry achieved its third successive record annual new-vehicle sales result last year, reaching 146,753 registrations which marked a massive 9.5 per cent increase over 2015.

With the results released this week, the NZ Motor Industry Association (MIA) and other industry sources cited a strong economy, low interest rates and rising immigration and tourism numbers as key factors behind the increase, which was sealed with another record monthly result in December and in overall terms was well ahead of all expectations across the sector.

“While many are writing off 2016 as a year to forget, for the new vehicle sector it was ‘annus mirabilis’ – a wonderful year,” said MIA chief executive David Crawford.

Mr Crawford said the 102,514 new passenger car and SUV registrations last year also broke a record dating back to 1973, when the tally reached 97,346.

Full-year commercial vehicle registrations were also well ahead of 2015, up 13 per cent with a new high-water mark of 44,239 units.

Significantly, SUVs outsold conventional passenger vehicles for the first time, snaring 36 per cent of the market, against 35 per cent of all other passenger vehicles, and 29 per cent for commercials.

While Toyota remained at the top of the table as New Zealand’s most popular brand, Ford’s Ranger utility was the highest-selling individual model, recording 8478 sales last year to finish well out in front of the Toyota Corolla on 6274 units – a total boosted by significant rental volume – and the HiLux utility close behind on 6187 sales.

Holden’s Colorado came in fourth on 3739 sales, followed by the Toyota RAV4 (3612), Mitsubishi Triton (3182), Nissan Navara (3093), Kia Sportage (3061), Mazda CX-5 (2841) and, rounding out the top 10, the Hyundai Tucson (2650).

Corolla earned the title as New Zealand’s top rental vehicle with 3166 sales – a statistic clearly seen on the country’s main tourist routes – followed by the Japanese brand’s RAV4 (1593), Highlander (1049) and Yaris (795). Next best was the Nissan X-Trail with 782 rental sales.

While Highway One linking the far north of New Zealand to the far south is still cut by the 7.8 November earthquake, with demolitions continuing in Wellington and the port damage still not resolved, new-car sales have not been adversely impacted.

There is a road transport surcharge as freight travels the long way around, but with most vehicle sales in the north island, and ships delivering to Christchurch – the south island’s biggest market – there has been no significant impact on the market.

Toyota again took the lion’s share, with 26,785 sales for the year, up 1.7 per cent for an 18.25 per cent market share despite suffering from the 2016 malaise – a lack of stock in a booming market that ran generously ahead of expectations.

Ford’s sales rose a phenomenal 21.4 per cent to 16,763, Holden was up 2.4 per cent to 14,337, and Mazda finished in fourth on 11,219 sales – up 11.3 per cent on 2015 and enough to hand it a 7.6 per cent share of the market.

Mazda NZ managing director Andrew Clearwater told GoAuto that consumer demand in the marketplace defied all expectations – its SUV range in particular “really went gangbusters for us” – and that the primary growth was in private sales rather than fleet and government.

“You need a crystal ball, and to be fair everyone struggled a bit to read the industry and I think there was a bit of trying to catch up with stock to meet demand,” Mr Clearwater said, adding that the same driving forces were still in play going into 2017.

“The economy is in pretty good shape, interest rates will remain relatively low and consumer confidence is good, especially among consumers who buy new cars.”

He expects industry growth to settle to single figures, with 2017 ending on 150,000 sales, while Mazda itself is looking forward to boosting its sales with the new generation of its biggest-selling vehicle in New Zealand, the CX-5 mid-size SUV, arriving in the second quarter.

Mitsubishi sales lifted 13.5 per cent to 9251 units last year, while Nissan’s sales were up 9.6 per cent to 8626.

Nissan NZ managing director John Manley said the industry’s performance was indicative of people’s perception of the health of the domestic economy.

He confirmed a big increase in rental numbers as the tourist business “went off the scale”, and with most primary exports performing well, and dairy showing signs of improving, he said it was little wonder the commercial market is so healthy.

“We don't see any reason for the market to decline. I know we said this three years in a row, but we expect the rate of growth to slow, with totals still at record levels,” Mr Manley told GoAuto.

This year’s election could derail that, however Mr Manley is more concerned about supply.

“Our biggest sellers are Qashqai, X-Trail and Navara, and the whole year we suffered constraints on the first two from Europe and Japan,” he said.

Nissan launches the Nismo performance sub-brand in February with the Nismo GT-R, and expects to see a payoff from reinforcing the brand’s sporting heritage.

Hyundai made little ground last year, its 8376 sales just 0.6 per cent – or 47 units – ahead of 2015.

Suzuki’s sales rose 18 per cent to 5311, and the company’s general manager motor sales Garry Collins said keeping Swift at high volume was a key focus.

While Suzuki NZ also predicts a slowing in growth for the market overall, the Japanese small-car brand is expecting a boost in share on the back of new models coming on stream, starting with the release of new Ignis in February and updates to other models through the year, including Swift.

Behind it came the year’s big mover, Kia, jumping two places to take ninth on the table of top-selling brand, its sales up 60.7 per cent to 5287 units.

Kia NZ general manager Todd McDonald said six of the brand’s eight models sold above 2015 levels, only Rio and Sorento failing to fire, with Sportage at the top of the pack.

“We have advertised almost everything, and in today’s market you have to have a pretty intensive campaign that links everything from TV, to outdoor, and definitely on line, it all has to integrate well,” he said.

Kia has also worked on upgrading its dealer network, most notably with new premises opening in Newmarket’s auto hub in Auckland in April.

Mr McDonald said the market rise was in part due to the consistency of perceived wealth, low interest rates and “vehicle pricing is very competitive at the moment on the back of some favourable exchange rates”.

As for 2017, he plans to consolidate, which will mean another big year for the Korean brand.

Volkswagen rounded out the top 10, up 0.9 per cent to 5092 units.

NZ Top 10 selling makes 2016
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NZ Top 10 selling makes December 2016
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