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Babies belt the big boys

January provided a solid start to the 2012 showroom sales race, with an overall lift of 4.3 per cent over 2010.

Not only did the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla finish first and second on sales for the month, but the Holden Cruze beat its big-brother Commodore for the first time and the compact Ford Focus also trumped the Falcon. 

January provided a solid start to the 2012 showroom sales race, with an overall lift of 4.3 per cent over 2010 powered mostly - as usual - by growing demand for SUVs.

But Falcon had its worst year on record and even a claim that hundreds of cars were damaged by hail at Broadmeadows could not balance the bad news. 

The Focus victory over the Falcon is a tick for the compact, with a towering margin of 1576-931 cars, but also another cross against the long-term future of the locally made family car. 

"It was a shocking storm. They really took a hit," a spokesman for Ford Australia, Neil McDonald, says. 

Holden has admitted for nearly a year that the Cruze would eventually become its local hero, but no-one expected the switch from big to little to happen so quickly.

It's unlikely to be sustained every month, as Commodore sales in January are traditionally down while fleet buyers are on holidays, but it's a pointer to a sea change in Australian carmaking.

"It's a good problem to have," says Holden's spokesperson, Emily Perry. Holden, like Ford with Falcon and Territory, is now also combining Commodore and Cruze totals each month so people get the correct picture of their total local production.

And it's claiming strong early returns from a variety of sources. "Holden's product renaissance is really picking up pace and key models are notching up very pleasing performances in their respective segments. 

Our focus remains on building and selling the cars Australians want to buy and with a raft of new models due in the coming months, we're looking forward to an exciting year ahead," says Holden's director of sales, Philip Brook. 

The margin between Cruze and Commodore was much closer than Focus and Falcon at 2445 sales to 2170. But neither could come close to the overall winner in January, the Mazda3 with 4045, or the second-placed Toyota Corolla with 3383. 

The Mazda is still powering off the back of its number one run through 2011 and led the company to a January record of 8479 sales, and 11.0 per cent of the market. 

The result reflects an increase of 1279 cars, or 17.8 per cent, over the result in 2011. "We are both delighted and humbled by customer acceptance of our whole range during January. 

While we are quietly confident of a strong year, particularly with the imminent launch of our all-new CX-5, our primary focus will remain on looking after our customers," says the managing director of Mazda Australia, Doug Dickson. 

As usual, Toyota was Australia's favourite brand in January, ahead of Toyota and Mazda, with Hyundai in fourth after the best January in its local history.