VFACTS summary: A million reasons to celebrate, but quietly

Team effort: Toyota dominated the Australian market last year, with winners in 9 of the 12 market segments in which it competes.

The winners and losers of the 2008 Australian sales race

VFACTS logo7 Jan 2009


AUSTRALIA’S new car market topped one million units again in 2008, recording its second-highest tally in history in the face of the global economic downturn.

The total of 1,012,164 vehicle sales was a decrease of 37,818 (3.6 per cent) over the record-breaking 2007 tally.

It compares well with figures released in recent days for the United States, which was down by 18.0 per cent to its worst level since 1992, and Japan, which declined for the fifth year in succession (down 6.5 per cent on 2007) to its worst level since 1974.

According to the official figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, sales were down in every passenger car segment as well as the SUV market, but an increase in the LCV (light commercial vehicle) market helped to restore the total.

The result for December showed a drop of 11.7 per cent against the same month in 2007, compared with drops of 35.6 per cent in the US, 22.3 per cent in Japan, 21 per cent in Canada, 15.8 per cent in France, 13.3 per cent in Italy and a massive 49.9 per cent in Spain. Results for the UK and Germany are due soon.

Toyota’s growing dominance of the Australian market was confirmed, finishing as the top brand for the 12th time in 18 years with a record 238,983 sales for a 23.6 per cent market share (up from 22.5 per cent last year).

It sold more cars than its nearest rivals combined, Holden finishing the year with 130,338 sales (down 16,342) and Ford with 104,715 (down 3356 despite the arrival of a new Falcon).

 center imageToyota sales and marketing chief David Buttner (left) said that the company’s success across so many market segments was “more than a little humbling”.

Holden could at least celebrate having the top-selling car for the 13th year in succession, the VE finishing the year strongly on the back of some enticing retail action to continue Commodore’s run as Australia’s top nameplate since 1996.

However, despite a boost with the arrival of the Sportwagon in July (contributing 8200 sales in five months), Commodore sales were still the lowest on record at 51,093 and were down about 6000 units on the previous two years.

But Ford would have loved such numbers as the new FG Falcon simply failed to attract the buyers that the highly-regarded car deserved. Falcon sales for the year totaled just 31,936, making it only the fifth most popular car in the country behind the Commodore, Toyota Corolla (47,901), Toyota HiLux (42,956) and Mazda3 (33,755).

Rounding out the top ten were the Toyota Yaris (26,097), Toyota Camry (23,067), Mitsubishi Lancer (19,688), Toyota Aurion (19,562) and Hyundai Getz (17,256).

Mazda was the only brand in the national top eight other than Toyota to sell more cars in 2008 than in 2007, the leading full-line importer picking up 2092 extra sales to increase its market share from 7.4 to 7.9 per cent and entrenching the brand in fourth place behind the three local producers.

Mitsubishi almost compensated for the loss of the locally-produced 380 with increased sales of its imports and retained fifth place in the market, but with a narrow lead over a solid Nissan.

Honda slipped back a place to seventh, dropping almost 8000 sales (13.1 per cent), while Hyundai dropped 9.2 per cent but retained its place in the top ten.

The top ten was rounded out by Subaru and Volkswagen, both of which had record years. Subaru only just made it with 47 extra sales for its 11th successive record year, but VW posted a strong gain of 2475 sales (9.0 per cent).

But the big winner for the year was again Audi, which finished the year 30.2 per cent ahead of 2007 with 9410 sales, a gain of 2185 units.

However, there were more losers than winners in 2008, including a number of high-profile nameplates.

Of the brands selling more than 1000 units a year, losses of more than 15 per cent were recorded by Saab (-37.8pc), Alfa Romeo (-35.5pc), Ssangyong (-35.4pc), Citroen (-28.9pc), Proton (-20.5pc), Chrysler (-19.3pc), Lexus (-18.6pc), Peugeot (-17.6pc) and Porsche (-16.2pc).

FCAI chief executive Andrew McKellar said that recording the second-best sales figure was a good result considering the economic and government hurdles put in front of the industry.

“Make no mistake – selling more than one million vehicles was no mean feat,” said Mr McKellar, who described 2008 as a challenging year.

“Only 12 months ago, we were bracing for interest rate rises, fuel prices were rising to record levels and in May the federal government announced an eight per cent increase to the luxury car tax.

“All these issues made selling new vehicles more challenging. Add to this fluctuating exchange rates, and then the global financial crisis began to impact on the Australian economy. Naturally, people became more cautious about spending.”

Interestingly, while private buyers cut back equally on passenger cars and SUVs, businesses and (more notably) governments actually bought more SUVs in 2008 than in 2007 – so it seems clear who is spending their own money on cars and fuel.

Another interesting trend in the VFACTS figures relates to the sales of diesel-engined vehicles, which continued to grow in 2008 despite the higher disparity in the price of diesel fuel compared to petrol.

Private buyers purchased 15.0 per cent more diesel-engined passenger cars and 8.4 per cent more SUVs while non-private (ie businesses and government) buyers were even more keen on diesel, buying 67.6 per cent more diesel cars and 26.6 per cent more SUVs.

Although the three companies that build cars in Australia grabbed 46.8 of the total market in 2008, sales of locally-manufactured cars were down by 14.5 per cent (29,053 cars) to 171,432.

Looking at the main market segments, upper large cars were down by 41.5 per cent, large cars by 14.4 per cent, medium cars by 5.7 per cent, small cars by 1.7 per cent, light cars by 1.0 per cent, people movers by 21.9 per cent and sports cars by 11.5 per cent.

In the SUV market, large was up 11.2 per cent, medium up 1.4 per cent, compact down 5.2 per cent (so much for fuel price concerns) and luxury down 7.7 per cent.

LCV sales were 4.2 per cent ahead overall, with vans leading the way with a 19.7 per cent increase, 4x2 pick-ups ahead by 3.1 per cent, 4x4 pick-ups ahead by 0.7 per cent and light buses ahead 38.6 per cent on a low base.

Light car honours for the year went to the Yaris by a country mile over the Hyundai Getz, the rapidly-gaining all-new Mazda2, the Suzuki Swift and the fading Holden Barina.

Toyota also won the small car battle comfortably with the consistent Corolla, but the Mazda3 held ground for second place despite the impending arrival of a new model to head off the Honda Civic, which lost some ground, along with the Ford Focus and Holden Astra.

The medium car segment was something of a surprise because, with buyers supposedly downscaling from large cars and with the arrival of the new Mazda6 and Honda Accord Euro, we expected an increase, not a 9.8 per cent drop.

Although the locally-built Camry was a comfortable winner, with twice as many sales as the imported Mazda6, it dropped 12.4 per cent or more than 3000 units. The Mazda finished comfortably ahead of the Accord Euro and Subaru Liberty while the Ford Mondeo was surprisingly well back, though still easily ahead of the VW Passat and Holden’s Korean-built Epica.

In the luxury medium class, the impressive new Mercedes-Benz C-class deservedly romped home with 6652 sales – just 105 units shy of the Mazda6 – while the BMW 3 Series dropped 17.9 per cent to finish almost 2000 units behind and only about 1000 ahead of the rampant new Audi A4, which overtook the staggering Lexus IS.

As mentioned earlier, the large car segment was all about Holden’s ability to continue selling the VE Commodore in much greater numbers than the new FG Falcon, while the luxury division was decimated by the luxury car tax increase – especially the Mercedes E-class, which had a massive 41.7 per cent fall and was overtaken by the BMW 5 Series.

The upper large car segment was another LCT bloodbath, with the Holden Statesman clinging on best and passing its more expensive Caprice sibling for top spot. The Mercedes S-class took luxo honours, but with 35.4 fewer sales than in 2007.

Kia’s Carnival was again the top-selling people mover, but with a greatly reduced margin over the Toyota Tarago, but all the major players lost a lot of ground.

BMW again had the top-selling ‘sports car’ with the 3 Series coupe and convertible models, despite the arrival of the new 1 Series models, which accounted for 1546 sales against the 3 Series’ barely affected 2683. Volkswagen’s EOS also did well, gaining 29 per cent to 1852 sales.

There were too many ugly results to list, but the Alfa Romeo Brera almost disappeared, the Lotus Europa barely appeared in the first place, and Mazda MX-5, BMW Z4 and Peugeot 307 convertible sales halved.

Mercedes suffered more big losses with the CLK, SLK and CL ranges while Porsche lost about one-third of its Boxster and 911 sales, though the Cayman held up slightly better.

Subaru had a brilliant victory in the compact SUV segment over Toyota’s previously rampant RAV4, the final margin being just 301 units – 14,423 to 14,122.

Nissan’s X-Trail ran out of puff and was pipped for third place by long-time rival the Honda CR-V, by a mere 18 sales.

The top-selling SUV overall, and winner of the medium segment, was the Toyota Prado with 14,725 – just a few hundred more than the leading compacts – but the big winner was its Kluger sibling, which gained 70.2 per cent over 2007 to record 13,424 sales.

Ford’s once-dominant and still impressive Territory seemed to suffer from Blue Oval fever, dropping 25.5 per cent to 12,882 and losing market leadership.

In the large SUV segment, Toyota is now utterly dominant with the Landcruiser gaining 24.2 per cent to 10,231 while the Nissan Patrol, which once vied for the off-road title, dropped 7.2 per cent to 4352.

Luxury SUV honours went to the BMW X5, which moved well clear of the rival Lexus RX, which is in run-out mode. A tight battle followed with the Mercedes M-class hanging on from the Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, Range Rover Sport, BMW X3 and the gaining VW Touareg.

Toyota’s HiAce easily accounted for the light bus and van markets and the T company’s LCV dominance was also evident in the ute segments.

The HiLux claimed top spot in both 4x2 and 4x4 pick-up divisions – with a reduced margin in the former over the Commodore ute (the new VE overtaking Ford’s old Falcon ute) and a larger one over the Nissan Navara in the latter.

Top 10 brands for 2008:
Rank Make Sales % Share
1 Toyota 238,983 23.6%
2 Holden 130,338 12.9%
3 Ford 104,715 10.3%
4 Mazda 79,826 7.9%
5 Mitsubishi 60,692 6.0%
6 Nissan 59,214 5.9%
7 Honda 52,571 5.2%
8 Hyundai 45,409 4.5%
9 Subaru 38,492 3.8%
10 Volkswagen 29,875 3.0%

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