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Australia's new-car sales shocker: Coronavirus sinks its teeth into auto industry in March as market drops 18 per cent

The Australian new car market continues to slide.

Australia's new-car market plummeted by 18 per cent in March compared to the same month last year as the impacts of the coronavirus tightens its grip in Australia.

The sales figures, released this morning by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) make for grim reading, with 81,690 sales in March, a drop of 17.9 per cent on the corresponding month in 2019.

In fact, March 2020 marks the 24th month, or a full two years, of contraction of the Australian new-car market.

More worrying is that the beginning of March was largely a normal month, and so the impact in April - which will likely be crippled by COVID-19 from start to finish - could be much worse.

FCAI chief executive, Tony Weber, lays the blame squarely on the coronavirus, but says that, despite "difficult period" dealerships would still largely remain open to ensure the continued mobility of Australians. 

“Many dealerships have opted to remain open to maintain support for customers, particularly from a service perspective, during this difficult period," he says.

“Of particular importance are first responder and essential services vehicles. We must keep these vehicles on the road to ensure our communities continue to function and remain safe.

“In addition, we need to ensure those who physically attend their workplace can travel safely. The motor vehicle is a safe form of transport during the pandemic, allowing occupants to preserve their personal distance from other commuters.

“Within dealerships, customer safety is of the highest priority, and automotive brands have initiated a variety of enhanced hygiene protocols and contactless consultations to maintain personal distance,”

The official sales split for March was 21,777 passenger vehicles (or 26.7 per cent share of the market), 39,171 SUVs (48.0 per cent) and 18,162 light commercial vehicles (22.2 per cent).

Toyota maintained its grip on the number one spot on the sales chart, shifting a total 17,583 vehicles. Incredibly, that's up from the 17,298 sales it managed in March 2019, though much of that is attributed to delivering on pre-orders of vehicles like the RAV4.

Mazda finished in second spot, with 6819 sales (down 29.1 per cent, month on month), while Mitsubishi claimed the final spot on the podium, with 6002 vehicles sold (down a huge 40 per cent compared to March last year).

The most eye-catching result though is Kia, which finished ahead of stablemate - and rival - Hyundai for the first time in its history in Australia, with 5654 sales (up 6.6 per cent month on month) versus 5306 sales (31.4 per cent).

Holden (4992), Ford (4857) Nissan (3501) Honda (3144) and Subaru (3024) round out the top 10 for March 2020. 

In terms of individual nameplates, the Toyota HiLux remains Australia's best-selling vehicle, 3556 sales, closely stalked by the Ford Ranger (3108 ), the Toyota RAV4 (2991), the Toyota Corolla (2812) and, amazingly, the Holden Colorado (2391).