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Australia taking on American love of big cars

Holden Special Vehicles is converting Dodge Rams to right-hand-drive for the local market.

Sales figures show our car market is becoming more like the US.

Australians may be keen on French wine, German beer and Italian espresso but when it comes to cars our tastes are increasingly falling into line with America.

Two decades ago we used to shake our heads at the US’s love of pick-up trucks and SUVs, but the sales figures for 2015 confirm we have become just like them.

When the local Aussie sedan disappears at the end of 2017, its place will be taken by SUVs, one-tonne utes (or pick-ups) and in the case of Ford, an iconic American muscle car, the Mustang.

Even Holden Special Vehicles, which made its name building V8 Commodores, is getting on the stars and stripes bandwagon and converting Dodge Rams to right-hand-drive for the local market.

The new “big car for a big country” will be more apple pie than Vegemite.

Just two decades ago Australia was unique in the Western world, as large sedans topped the sales charts. In 1996, we bought more than 83,000 Commodores and 77,000 Falcons in a total market of just 500,000 passenger vehicles.

Throw in 30,000 Mitsubishi Magnas and 30,000 Toyota Camrys and large family sedans made up four out of every 10 new cars sold. The rest were hatchbacks, with the exception of Toyota’s LandCruiser.

The Toyota Camry was a constant in both markets

Last year, we bought more one-tonne utes and SUVs than passenger cars.

Our top 10 sellers included four hatchbacks, three utes, two sedans and an SUV, edging us closer to the US.

We’re not quite there yet, though. The top three selling vehicles in the US last year were all pick-up trucks: the Ford F-Series was No. 1, followed by the Chevy Silverado and the Dodge Ram. The Toyota Camry was a constant in both markets, finishing 4th in the US and 8th in Australia.

Overall they had three pick-ups, three mid-size sedans, two hatchbacks and two SUVs.

The contrast with Europe is stark. Their top six selling vehicles — and seven of the top ten — are hatchbacks, with two city-friendly small SUVs and a sedan making up the numbers.

In Japan, there are a couple of familiar names but small cars and people-movers dominate. The Prius C, which managed just 1.2 per cent of the small car market in Australia, is number one, followed by the Corolla and Prius. Other familiar names include the Honda Jazz (called the Fit in Japan), Toyota Yaris (called the Vitz) and Mazda2 (called the Demio). The rest are mini people-movers.

Social analyst David Chalke says that while Australia likes to see itself as cosmopolitan, most people still live in the suburbs and dream of escaping to the great outdoors.

“It is just like the Americans and their cowboy ethos,” he says. “We like to see ourselves as these latte-sipping, tight-jean wearing hipsters but really we’re one of the most suburban places on the planet,” he says.

Europeans and Japanese, in contrast, favour small, fuel-efficient vehicles

As with the Americans, Australians like big houses built on big blocks of land with a big car in the driveway.

“We like our McMansions and the ute with the jetski on the back,” he says.

Europeans and Japanese, in contrast, favour small, fuel-efficient vehicles that are cheap to run and easy to manoeuvre in overcrowded cities.

While diesel and hybrid hatchbacks dominate over there, Australians are turning their back on efficiency and the environment for size and practicality.

Last year, private sales of diesel passenger cars dropped by almost a quarter, while private sales of hybrids dropped by more than 10 per cent.

We also have turned our backs on micro cars; sales in the segment were down by almost a third.

Top selling cars around the world


1. Toyota Corolla
2. Mazda3
3. Toyota HiLux
4. Hyundai i30
5. Ford Ranger
6. Holden Commodore
7. Toyota Camry
8. Mitsubishi Triton
9. Mazda CX-5
10. Volkswagen Golf

United States

1. Ford F-Series
2. Chevrolet Silverado
3. Dodge Ram
4. Toyota Camry
5. Toyota Corolla
6. Honda Accord
7. Honda CR-V
8. Honda Civic
9. Nissan Altima
10. Toyota RAV4


1. Toyota Prius C
2. Toyota Corolla
3. Toyota Prius
4. Honda Jazz
5. Nissan Note
6. Toyota Voxy
7. Toyota Yaris
8. Mazda2
9. Honda Stepwgn
10. Toyota Esquire


1. Volkswagen Golf
2. Ford Fiesta
3. Volkswagen Polo
4. Renault Clio
5. Opel Corsa
6. Ford Focus
7. Renault Captur
8. Peugeot 208
9. Nissan Qashqai
10. Volkswagen Passat

Would you like to see more US style big cars on our roads? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.