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Australians treated themselves to more than 1.1 million new cars in 2012, bucking retail trends with a 10 per cent surge, official figures due to be released tomorrow are expected to show.
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, preliminary figures obtained by News Limited show.
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, which made a late charge in the last few months of the year to snatch third place.
It is believed to be the first time since the early 1900s a locally assembled car has not finished among the top three sellers. Historians said last year’s Mazda3 victory was the likely the first time an imported vehicle topped the charts since before World War I.
The Toyota HiLux, largely driven by the mining boom, made an early challenge for the top sales spot, topped the leaderboard on six individual months, swapped the lead with the Mazda3 on three occasions – but never headed the Mazda in the year-to-date tally.
The two unlikely rivals were just 61 sales apart October, but then the Mazda3 appeared to fit rocket-boosters, increasing its sales gap for the last three months in a row.
In December, the Mazda3 posted its highest monthly sales result of all time – outselling the Holden Commodore by more than two-to-one – as Mazda became the first import-only brand to top 100,000 sales in a calendar year.
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.
In another upset, the Commodore was beaten by the Toyota Camry for the past three months in a row, as sales of locally-made cars dropped to 12.5 per cent, down from 25 per cent in 2005.
Both Holden and Ford say they have new models in the wings. Holden’s updated Commodore is due to arrive in showrooms in June and Ford’s refreshed Falcon is due next year.
Toyota was the biggest-selling brand for the 10th year in a row, but its preliminary tally of 218,177 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.
Ford had only one vehicle represented in the top 10, the Focus small car, which was supposed to be built in Australia but instead is imported from Thailand with no tariffs thanks to a Free Trade Agreement.
Beyond Ford, it was a distant gap to Nissan, which posted its best sales since the brand came to Australia – and since it stopped making cars locally in 1992.
Former mainstream challenger Mitsubishi lost ground, however, with German maker Volkswagen closing in with another all-time Australian record, ahead of Subaru which also posted its best result to date.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling
Live updates at noon Friday
Top 10 cars in December*
Mazda3 4649 (record)
Toyota Camry 3587
Toyota Corolla 3543
Toyota HiLux 3120
Nissan Navara 2688
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 27,231
Nissan Navara 26,397
Toyota Yaris 18,808
Ford Focus 18,586
Top 10 brands in 2012*
Mazda 103,886 (record)
Hyundai 91,500 (record)
Nissan 79,745 (record)
Volkswagen 54,835 (record)
Subaru 40,189 (record)
* Preliminary figures