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Australian car market: car sales, statistics and figures

Andrew Chesterton
Contributing journalist

21 Nov 2018 • 14 min read

You might think we'd be an after-thought when it comes to car companies. With a population so small that there are more new cars sold in China each year than there are people in our country, how important could the car market share in Australia be anyway?

Taken as a raw number? Not very. But per-capita? That's where the story gets interesting. It makes our car market a genuine world player. In fact, new car sales figures in Australia sometimes beggars belief.

How many cars are sold in Australia each year?

Need proof? Ok, consider this analysis; we have purchased near-enough 1.1 million cars every year for the past seven years. If you're keeping score at home, the Australian car sales figures for 2011 tallied 1.008m in 2011, 1.112m in 2012, 1.36m in 2013 and 1.113m in 2014.

And they just kept growing; The Australian car sales figures in 2015, 2016 and 2017 totalled 1.155m, 1.178m and 1.189m, according to offical Australian car sales figures.

Australian Annual New Car Sales, 2008-2017 Australian Annual New Car Sales, 2008-2017

All up, the new car sales figures in Australia add up to more than 7.6 million new cars in just seven years. In a country of 24 million people. Meaning some 30 per cent of our population bought a brand-new vehicle in the same amount of time it takes for Kia's new car warranty to run its course.

Incredible, right? And even more so when you start crossing off the people who don't actually drive (the elderly, children etc). No such data exists, I'm afraid, but you could easily imagine that those car sales statistics in Australia would climb to over 50 per cent of the population with all the non-drivers taken into account. In fact, ABS data released last year found that there are 775 motor vehicles per 1000 people in Australia.

Cars per capita Cars per capita

And the Australian car sales figures for 2018 show our new car market is about on-par to repeat our annual seven-figure feat, having sold 786,294 new models to the end of August 2018, a tiny 0.3 per cent dip on this time last year, when 788,968 vehicles had been sold.

But while it might appear like business as usual, peel back the raw numbers and there are some worrying trends emerging. For one, in the month of July alone, sales dipped almost eight per cent compared to the same month in 2017. A blip, perhaps, and the course was corrected slightly in August, though the market still returned a month-on-month drop of 1.5 per cent.

Many fear the worst is yet to come, with financial analysis by global investment house UBS in May predicting falling property prices (as we're seeing in most major Australian cities) could have a devastating impact on our new-car market.

According to UBS, every 10 per cent drop in house prices could spark a 10 per cent drop in mainstream car sales - eight per cent for premium or luxury brands - as consumer confidence takes a battering and Australians find there's suddenly less equity in their homes to borrow against.

Top selling cars in Australia

Again according to data from UBS, collated by GoAuto, the number of premium or luxury cars sold has skyrocketed since the year 2000 (growing at some 6.6 per cent per year). In 2000, for example, premium and luxury cars made up 18 per cent of the total market. Last year, that number was 35 per cent.

But those numbers are now changing. While the mainstream market is mostly holding strong (well, it's dropped slightly), it's the former luxury darlings of the new-car world now taking the biggest hit.

Breaking down Australian car sales statistics by manufacturer reveals Audi's sales are down 8.5 per cent so far this year, with Jaguar (down 14.2 per cent), Land Rover (down 13.4 per cent) BMW (down 3.8 per cent), Mercedes-Benz (down 7.5 per cent), Lexus (down 1.7 per cent) all feeling the pain.

In fact, of the major premium brands, it's really only Alfa Romeo that has recorded positive growth year on year, owing mostly to the small base expected of a recently launched brand.

The pain of those numbers isn't yet reflected in our top mainstream brands, with almost every one of them either maintaining their results or reporting year-to-date growth in the crowded Australian automotive market.

Car sales by brand in Australia

The list of Australian car brands that shift the most units feels like it has been much the same since Moses got his L-plates (well, except for Holden and Ford). And 2018 is no different, with Toyota maintaining its place at the top of the table, shifting 147,602 vehicles so far this year, 1.5 per cent more than the 145,468 moved to this point last year.

Top 10 Manufacturers by year, 2014-2017 Top 10 Manufacturers by year, 2014-2017

Mazda holds second place with 79,004 units sold, just under the 79,535 sold to this point last year. And it's a similar story for third-placed Hyundai, with 65,010 - about on-par with the 65,120 sold to August last year.

Spot number four is held by Mitsubishi, with the Japanese brand moving a very healthy 56,846 cars so far this year, up more than eight per cent. Only Ford, which holds spot number five has recorded a drop, with 47,886 vehicles moved, down more than 10 per cent on the 53,620 sold last year.

Cars Manufactured in Australia, 2010-2018 Cars Manufactured in Australia, 2010-2018

It's bad time to be a former maker of Australian cars, it seems, with Holden, which lands in sixth place, continuing its horror run, having shifted 40,897 cars so far in 2018, down more than 25 per cent on the same period last year.

Top Cars by Country of Manufacturer Top Cars by Country of Manufacturer

But you only need to look at the top selling cars in Australia to find out where the mainstream growth lies. Of our top-10 models in August, not one was a full-size sedan (unthinkable, even a decade ago), and just three passenger cars in total. We have now entered the era of light-commercial vehicles and SUVs. The passenger car is, if not dead, then dying.

  • Car Sales by Bodytype, 2010 Car Sales by Bodytype, 2010
  • Car Sales by Bodytype, 2015 Car Sales by Bodytype, 2015
  • Car Sales by Bodytype, 2018 Car Sales by Bodytype, 2018

The Toyota HiLux (a whopping 34,424 sold so far this year) and the Ford Ranger (28,571 sold) held positions one and two. The Toyota Corolla and Mazda3 held sports three and four, while the Mazda CX-5 held, rather fittingly, position five.

The Hyundai i30, in position six, was the last passenger car to appear in the top 10, with the Toyota Prado, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan X-Trail and Mitsubishi Triton rounding out the list.

Used car sales statistics Australia

The question is, does all this new-car action have an impact on the used vehicle market? Is it suddenly flooded with near-new models as buyers rush to upgrade their wheels? Or is it sitting stagnant?

It's hard to decipher an accurate answer on that. Though amazingly, ABS data released in January this year found the average age of an Australian car to be 10.1 years old -  a number unchanged since 2015, despite the number or new cars sold.

In terms of how many used cars are sold in Australia every year? US auto analysts Manheim found the size of our second-hand car market to be around three million units per annum.