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New-car buyers hit the brakes in September and another 1.1 million-plus annual sales record is now under threat. Industry analysts are trying to determine what caused the September slowdown after six of the top 10 brands posted sales slides and the overall market dropped by 2.1 per cent to 92,662 deliveries compared with the same month last year.
The last time the Australian new-car market slowed dramatically was in December 2011, when sales fell by 4.8 per cent after floods in Thailand and a catastrophic tsunami in Japan earlier that year severely restricted vehicle production.
The weak September result means market growth has slowed to 3.3 per cent year-to-date, with 849,944 deliveries since January, putting another record annual result in doubt.
After last year’s all-time high of 1,112,032 sales the new-car market was up by 5 per cent in the first half of this year.
Car executives are trying to determine if the market is still experiencing the flow-on effect from the uncertainty caused by sudden changes to Fringe Benefits Tax rules before the Federal election -- or if the election itself did most of the damage.
New-car sales dipped in the lead-up to four of the last five Federal elections, industry figures show.
"The announcement by the Coalition to return to pre-July FBT arrangements has been welcomed by the industry," said Tony Weber, the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
"We anticipate the market effect of this announcement will see positive growth throughout the rest of the year. Consumers can be confident that the recent FBT issue is now behind us."
The September slowdown still came as a surprise given that interest rates fell to a new low and improved car affordability.
Sales in the main mining states -- Queensland, West Australia and the Northern Territory -- were down by between 5.5 and 8.2 per cent, but sales of utes were still strong, with three workhorses finishing inside the top 10. The Toyota HiLux was the second-biggest seller in September while the Nissan Navara and Ford Ranger placed seventh and eighth respectively.
Meanwhile the Toyota Corolla has developed a clear lead in the race to become Australia’s top-selling car for the first time. The Corolla has now built a gap of 1258 sales -- its largest to date -- ahead of two-times winner, the Mazda3, in the year-to-date tally (Corolla: 32,039, Mazda3: 30,781).
The Mazda3 led the market at the start of the year and seemed certain to collect its third win in a row, but the Corolla overtook its fellow Japanese import as Australia’s favourite car in April, June, July and September.
Holden posted 1851 Cruze deliveries (compared to the Golf’s tally of 1852) which was down 5 per cent on the same month in 2012, and down by 37 per cent compared to September 2011.
The Golf’s result was buoyed by $22,990 drive-away promotional pricing but it also shows that Volkswagen appears to have bounced back from the recall controversy earlier this year. Last month’s result was strong for the Volkswagen Golf but still nowhere near its all-time high figure of 3337 sales set in October 2011.
The homegrown Falcon and Commodore posted modest sales recoveries, but both were well short of their former glory. Holden again delivered more than 2800 Commodores (up 13 per cent) while Ford shifted 846 Falcons, which was down 28 per cent compared to the same month last year but an increase of 47.6 after the previous month’s all-time low.
The reigning champion Mazda3 had a big sales slide in September after the company brought its annual sale forward a month. Toyota is on track to post its 11th year as the top-selling brand with 158,793 sales year to date, ahead of second-placed Holden (81,904). In third place Mazda (78,252) still has a comfortable margin over fourth-placed Hyundai (72,599) and fifth-placed Ford (64,964).
Nissan sales continued to slide for the third month in a row but its results of 59,460 so far this year is up by 1.2 per cent after benefitting from strong gains earlier in the year. Nissan Australia is looking for its third boss in less than two years after Bill Peffer announced he was leaving the company.
Top 10 brands in September 2013
Toyota 17,492 -- up 1.1 per cent
Holden 9614 -- up 7.4 per cent
Hyundai 8803 -- up 12.6 per cent
Mazda 7615 -- down 24.6 per cent
Ford 7505 -- down 3.3 per cent
Mitsubishi 5993 -- up 3.3 per cent
Nissan 5556 -- down 10.8 per cent
Volkswagen 4466 -- down 9.8 per cent
Subaru 2752 -- down 14.3 per cent
Kia 2534 -- down 7.7 per cent
Top 10 cars in September 2013
Toyota Corolla 3443 – up 9.9 per cent
Toyota HiLux 3340 – down 3.9 per cent
Mazda3 3052 – down 28.6 per cent
Holden Commodore 2865 – up 13.3 per cent
Hyundai i30 2675 – down 14.9 per cent
Toyota Camry 2223 – down 1.9 per cent
Nissan Navara 2275 – up 25.3 per cent
Ford Ranger 2037 – up 13.1 per cent
Volkswagen Golf 1852 – up 8.1 per cent
Holden Cruze 1851 – down 5.1 per cent
Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, VFACTS.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling