Australians treated themselves to more than 1,112,032 new cars in 2012, bucking retail trends with a 10.3 per cent surge to an all-time high, official VFACTS figures released today have confirmed.
But taking some of the shine off the result is the revelation that a record number of “dealer demonstrators” were registered. Confidential figures obtained exclusively by News Limited show at least 100,000 cars were reported as demonstrator models in 2012 -- but the actual figure could be higher because dealers are not obliged to report them.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries compiles sales data based on the number of new vehicle registrations. The information is voluntarily supplied by each car brand, rather than the roads authorities in each state and territory.
To meet sales targets some car companies have been pushing vehicles onto showroom floors, offering dealers drastically discounted wholesale prices if cars are registered. This means a new car can be reported as “sold” even though it is not yet in customer hands.
A confidential source told News Limited: “The definition of sold is the key issue. It clouds the waters to say the auto industry is booming when it really isn’t. “There are dealers with hundreds of reported cars on showroom floors. They’re still paying floorplan interest on those cars, and they have to sell them before they sell another car.
“The other issue is that if the dealer goes bust, the factory won’t take the cars back. And finance companies don’t count them as new cars any more. In reality they’re used cars and have a depreciated value.”
Most dealers have a handful of demonstrator models for test drives. But the system has been rorted in recent years, with a significant number of franchises having brand new registered cars on dealer forecourts.
It’s good news for buyers because the savings are typically passed on and you can drive home in a new car the same day. The industry argues the figure still counts because, ultimately, the car will be sold to a customer in the following months. The only downside for buyers is that the warranty of a new car starts as soon as it is registered, not the day they take delivery of a demonstrator.
The chief executive of the FCAI Tony Weber said: “There is some discussion about the VFACTS numbers but we stand by them and we have no reason to doubt them at this point in time. Ultimately these [demonstrator] cars are sold in the market.” After further questioning, the FCAI said it would review the reporting of dealer demonstrator models.
“We can have a look at that through 2013 but at the moment the VFACTS system will remain in place,” Weber said. “Demonstrators have always been part of the market and they’ll continue to be in place.” The VFACTS data shows it is the fifth time in six years the 1 million mark has been passed – and the highest since the original 1 million-plus record was set in 2007.
The historic Holden versus Ford rivalry fell by the wayside as a trio of imported cars topped the sales charts for the first time in close to 100 years. The Mazda3 small car outsold the Toyota HiLux utility to become the top-seller for the second year in a row, having toppled the homegrown Holden Commodore in 2011 after its record 15-year winning streak.
But in a further blow to the Commodore, in 2012 it was knocked off the podium by the Toyota Corolla. Both the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore posted their lowest sales in the history of their respective nameplates; the Commodore dropping below 1983 levels, when Bob Hawke was elected as prime minister, and the Falcon dropping to below levels when the model was introduced in 1960.
Buyers bought a record number of SUVs – sales were up 25 per cent and the cars that were once the scourge of the suburbs now represent more than one-in-four new cars sold. Driven by the mining boom, sales of utes and vans also hit record highs – up 12.5 per cent they represent one in five new cars sold.
Showing our changing tastes, regular passenger cars represent 52 per cent of new-vehicle sales, down from 76 per cent 20 years ago. New-car affordability (thanks to the strong Australian dollar and low interest rates) in the most competitive market in the world helped drive the record result.
There are now 67 brands on sale in Australia, with a market size of 1.1 million. In North America, 38 brands compete in a market of approximately 12 million sales. Toyota was the biggest-selling brand for the 10th year in a row, but its tally of 218,176 sales is still less than its all-time record of 238,983 set in 2008.
Holden managed to hang on to second spot despite posting its lowest sales in 19 years. Holden delivered 114,665 cars in 2012, the first time it has fallen below the 1994 tally of 118,808 sales set in 1994.
The big movers were Mazda and Hyundai, both of which squeezed Ford off the podium for the first time since the blue oval badge was established locally in 1925. Pushed back to fifth place, it was Ford’s seventh straight year of sales decline despite an aggressive sales push in December which saw low interest rate offers on discounted drive-away prices.
Although the mining sector says it has fallen on tough times, sales growth was strongest in the resources states. Sales of new vehicles in the Northern Territory and Western Australia were up by more than 16 per cent, and Queensland was up by 11 per cent.
The increase in sales in South Australia, NSW and Victoria was slightly lower than the national average (8.3, 8.5 and 9.5 per cent respectively). But NSW was still by far the largest new-car market, with 341,211 deliveries ahead of Victoria (293,778) and Queensland (235,025).
Top 10 cars in December
Mazda3 4649 (record)
Toyota Camry 3586
Toyota Corolla 3543
Toyota HiLux 3120
Nissan Navara 2691
Hyundai i30 2250
Holden Commodore 2198
Toyota Yaris 1948
Ford Focus 1915
Holden Cruze 1904
Top 10 cars in 2012
Mazda3 44,128 (record)
Toyota HiLux 40,646
Toyota Corolla 38,799
Holden Commodore 30,532
Holden Cruze 29,161
Hyundai i30 28,348
Toyota Camry 27,230
Nissan Navara 26,045
Toyota Yaris 18,808
Ford Focus 18,586
Top 10 brands in 2012
Mazda 103,886 (record)
Hyundai 91,536 (record)
Nissan 79,747 (record)
Volkswagen 54,835 (record)
Subaru 40,189 (record)
Percentage of Australian-made cars sold in 2012
2005: 248,912 of 988,269 = 25pc local
2006: 201,623 of 962,666 = 20.9 pc local
2007: 200,485 of 1,049,982 = 19 pc local
2008: 171,432 of 1,012,164 = 16.9 pc local
2009: 147,680 of 937,328 = 15.7 pc local
2010: 146,314 of 1,035,574 = 14.1 pc local
2011: 141,939 of 1,008,437 = 14.0 pc local
2012: 139,796 of 1,112,032 = 12.5 per cent
SOURCE: FCAI VFACTS