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Thai high: Ford's Thai-built Focus is one of the Blue Oval's top sellers.

Thai-made vehicles take 20 per cent of Australian market as local cars slump

7 Jan 2014

THAI car manufacturers supplied twice as many vehicles as their Australian counterparts in Australia last year as the domestic factories of Ford, Holden and Toyota continued to surrender sales market share to imports.

Australian-made cars accounted for a record low 10.4 per cent of Australian vehicle sales in 2013, compared with 25 per cent just eight years ago, according to official VFACTS sales figures from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

Thai imports, on the other hand, snared 20 per cent of the Australian market in 2013 – more than doubling their share since 2005.

In just one year, vehicle volumes from Thailand grew 32.9 per cent, from 171,878 units in 2012 to 228,479 units last year, while Australian-made car sales fell 15.2 per cent, to 118,510 vehicles – less than half the tally for the locally bred cars in 2005.

Japan remains the main source of vehicles sold in Australia, with 362,058 Japanese-built vehicles – almost a third of all sales – rolling out of showrooms in 2013, led by the top sellers, the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.

However, even Japanese imports were down 7.2 per cent compared with the previous year, as were South Korean imports (down 6.7 per cent, to 134,953 units).

Thailand, which has set out to reinvent itself as the “Detroit of Asia”, has many attractions for global car-makers, not the least being its free-trade status with Australia, meaning that Thai vehicles avoid the five per cent import duty of all vehicles imported to this country.

Australian car-makers were supposed to be able to export vehicles to Thailand too, but a number of non-tariff trade barriers – including stiff financial penalties on vehicles with engines above three litres – have skittled those plans.

In recent years, only the Ford Territory has been shipped to Thailand, but only in tiny volumes.

Thai manufacturers suffered a blip in their growth trajectory in 2011 and 2012 when unprecedented floods crippled Thai manufacturing for almost a year.

However, manufacturers with factories there – including market leaders Toyota, General Motors, Mazda, Nissan, Ford, Mitsubishi and Honda – have made up lost ground since, and then some.

Four of the top 10 vehicles sold in Australia in 2013 were either Thai-built or primarily so. These were the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara.

The Thai-made Ford Focus small car was the Blue Oval brand’s second best seller behind the Ranger.

With Ford shutting its Australian factories from 2016 and Holden following suit from the end of 2017, the downward spiral of Australian-made cars is set to continue.

Even if Toyota can save its Altona plant in Victoria, the combined sales of Camry and Aurion at current levels does not even add up to 3.0 per cent of Australian vehicle sales.

Part of the trauma for the Australian manufacturers has been the decline in government fleet sales – down 20 per cent last year.

Business fleet sales also slipped by 1.1 per cent, while rental fleet sales fell 8.0 per cent.

Traditionally, fleets have been more inclined to buy local, but a switch to user-chooser novated lease arrangements for business car purchases has compounded the decline, as individuals have been more inclined to buy imported cars.

As well, the massive rise in SUV purchases at the expense of traditional sedan and wagons has caught local car-makers on the hop, except for Ford with its Territory.

But even the Territory slipped last year, with buyers favouring smaller four-cylinder SUVs.

Another growth area has been one-tonne utes, which are predominantly made in Thailand.

These utes are overwhelmingly diesel powered and 4x4, while the Australian-made Holden and Falcon utes are neither.

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