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VFACTS: Compact SUV love affair grows apace

Gaining pace: Mazda has kicked sales goals with its facelifted CX-7, thanks to a more affordable two-wheel-drive version and two new engines.

Small soft-roaders outsell large cars as two-wheel drives boost SUV sales

VFACTS logo5 Mar 2010

By RON HAMMERTON

AUSTRALIAN motorists are buying more compact SUVs than traditional large cars for the first time.

In the first two months of 2010, vehicle buyers have snapped up 16,386 small SUVs – many of them two-wheel drives never meant for the bush – compared with 15,555 large cars.

SUV sales in general grew almost 32 per cent in February over the same month in 2009, with the smaller, more affordable compact variety gaining the most traction of any market segment, up 42.7 per cent, as family buyers continue to favour more versatile vehicles.

While sales of the predominantly locally made large cars such as the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon were also up by a collective 7.8 per cent in February, they fell short of the overall market growth of 17.1 per cent.

Last month, 8697 compact SUVs flowed out of the showrooms, while the once-dominant large-car segment accounted for 8239 sales. Just last year, the February large car tally was 7641 vehicles against compact SUV sales of 6095 units.

However, part of the large-car sales shortfall thus far in 2010 may be due to a sales hangover from last year’s tax breaks that drove up business car sales in December, potentially taking the edge off fleet sales in what is already a quiet time of year.

February’s total market volume was 82,219 vehicles – up 17.1 per cent on the previous February’s depressed 70,241 units.

 center imageFrom top: Holden Captiva, Mazda3, Toyota HiLux and Audi Q5.

Passenger car sales grew 12.6 per cent last month, while light truck volumes loaded an extra 14.8 per cent.

But it was the SUV brigade that made hay in the new economic sunshine, especially in the most popular compact and medium segments as private buyers flooded back into the market.

An astonishing six compact SUVs of a field of 22 enjoyed sales volume rises of 190 per cent or more, with Mazda’s recently refurbished CX-7 recording its best-ever month – 944 units – with a rise of 384 per cent over the corresponding month last year.

The CX-7, like an increasing number of small and medium SUVs, gained a more affordable two-wheel drive model as part of its model upgrade. This front-drive brigade is helping to drive up SUV volumes month by month, suggesting they are substitutes for passenger cars.

The top-selling compact SUV last month again was the Subaru Forester, even though it was one of the few such vehicles to record a year-on-year decline, down 1.1 per cent.

Next best was the Toyota RAV4 (977, +14.4 per cent), Mazda CX-7 and Mitsubishi Outlander (701, +11.6 per cent).

Honda’s one-time best-selling CR-V recovered somewhat from recently lows, up 48.5 per cent to 698 units, while Subaru’s Outback and Nissan’s Dualis both recorded increases of more than 200 per cent, to 621 and 445 units respectively.

In the medium SUV segment, Holden’s Captiva (1315 units, +44.3 per cent) maintained its recent dominance over Toyota duo, Prado (1194, +22 per cent) and Kluger (1041, +26.2 per cent), while Ford’s locally made Territory came fourth (867, +13.4 per cent).

The large SUV segment was the only SUV group to fall short of the market average, rising just 9.1 per cent on February 2009, with only the dominant Toyota LandCruiser in positive territory, up 20.7 per cent to 683 units.

In top-shelf luxury SUVs, the Audi’s Q5 (282 units) hit the lead for the first time, pipping the long-time leader BMW X5 (275).

In passenger cars, entry-level light cars were up 18.4 per cent year on year, with Hyundai’s venerable Getz (1927 units) getting up as class leader against Toyota’s Yaris (1903), with the Holden Barina (1292) and Mazda2 (1143) next best.

In the top-selling small-car class, the Mazda3 is showing the same first-quarter form that gave it the early segment lead last year, topping the bracket with 3390 units, ahead of rival leadership rival Toyota Corolla (3042) and the fast-growing Hyundai i30 (2926, +137 per cent).

In the medium-car zone, Toyota’s locally-built mainstay, the Camry, sparked into life with a 35.3 per cent volume increase over February last year, thanks mainly to the introduction of the Camry Hybrid.

Camry’s 2116 units accounted for almost 40 per cent of the medium segment, with only the new Subaru Liberty (854 units), Honda Accord Euro (477) and the Ford Mondeo (465 units) providing substantial resistance. The Mondeo enjoyed the biggest rise in volume of any medium car – up 48.1 per cent – to give the Ford some joy in a fairly average month for the Blue Oval.

Perennial market leader Holden's Commodore again dominated the large-car segment, with a 15.9 per cent sales increase, to 3914 units. This means the Commodore accounted for almost half of all large cars sold for the month in its class up to $70,000 (7912 units).

The rival Ford Falcon eked out a 5.4 per cent rise, to 2514 units, with the Toyota Aurion again losing ground, down 7.2 per cent, to 898 units.

Above $70k, Mercedes-Benz’s new E-class swept all before it, selling 188 units, with BMW’s run-out 5 Series runner up on 50 units.

In the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it upper-large segment, it was a Holden fiesta, with Caprice number one with 121 sales and Statesman again making it a quinella, on 36 units.

In people-movers, the long-reigning Kia Carnival came under attack from friendly fire, with Korean partner Hyundai’s iMax mounting a challenge. While iMax sales jumped 215 per cent, to 202 units for the month, Kia’s Carnival held sway with 254 units, even though this represented a 5.2 per cent decline. Year to date, Carnival is still up 30 per cent on 2009.

It was a case of the usual suspects in the sports car market in February, with the BMW 1 Series coupe/convertible (168 units) out-pointing the Mercedes C-class Sports Coupe (153) and Kia’s Cerato Koup (117).

Higher up the sports price rankings, the BMW 3 Series Coupe/Convertible (129 vehicles) and Porsche 911 (29 units) were the standouts.

Light truck sales grew 14.8 per cent in February, dispelling fears that a pull-forward from last year’s tax incentives to businesses might rock the sales boat in early 2010.

Once again, 4x4 utes and cab-chassis vehicle were the flavour of the month, up 27.1 per cent, compared with the workhorse 4x2 variety’s decline of 3.2 per cent.

The 4x2 segment leader in February last year, the Ford Falcon Ute, was crunched to the tune of -27.9 per cent, to 762 units, while the class-leading Toyota HiLux 4x2 jumped 25.6 per cent, to 1287 units, and the Holden Ute lifted 64.3 per cent, to edge back over the 1000 units, to 1066.

In 4x4, the Toyota HiLux again zoomed ahead on 1984 units – a rise of 24.5 per cent – although the Nissan Navara made up ground, up 50.3 per cent to 1550 units.

Hyundai’s iLoad was the stand-out performer in the van market, up 323 per cent to a class-winning, record 657 units, ahead of traditional leader, the Toyota Hiace (605).

Interestingly, the iLoad and the HiAce are locked together on 1249 units apiece year to date, setting up a battle for bragging rights throughout 2010.

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