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Small-car boomer


Car sales were at record levels for the first half of the year, but that isn't expected to last.

As Ford and GM Holden struggle with their toughest challenges in more than 25 years, there is no sign of any overall slump in new-car showrooms.

The Commodore and Falcon are doing it tough, but small-car sales are booming, compact four-wheel drives are going well and there is a growing trend towards work-and-play pickups by Tuppies - or Tradie Urban Professionals.

The Tuppie trend is as obvious as the showroom total for the Toyota HiLux, Australia's No.2 seller in the first six months of the year. It even beat the Commodore, though the baby Corolla did best, to record its first half-year term as overall No.1.

Toyota continues to power ahead and has experienced the best results in its history, helping to drive a string of records for the overall motor industry.

"We're up 9.4 per cent for the year. But we always want to do better and while we're running well ahead we're happy," the head of sales and marketing at Toyota Australia, Dave Buttner, says.

The overall figures at the half-time break in this year's showroom battle include record sales figures for June, a record for the year so far and a record performance for a financial year of 1,068,301.

But things do not look as bright for the second half of the year, even though all industry analysts are forecasting a full-year total of about 1,060,000.

"There will be a lot of competitive pressures. Prices are likely to stay where they are," Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries chief executive Andrew McKellar says.

"The June figures need to be seen in a broader context. We have come from a situation where the market was growing at about twice the rate of the national economy ... we have seen growth rates fall from 8.9 per cent to 3.5 per cent this year.

"This is much more in line with growth in the general economy and a much more sustainable position."

So there are plenty of winners, but there are losers, too. Nissan and Honda trail last year's half-yearly totals. They have held their places in the top-10 sales chart but clearly need new models to compete with their rivals, as Honda's impressive effort in June - when it cracked 6000 sales for the first time in a month thanks to the new Accord and Accord Euro - prove.

But what can we see in the results, beyond the inevitable stuff from Toyota?

New vehicles are still up to 30 per cent less expensive to buy today than they were 15 years ago and strong competition, the growth of turbodiesels, improved safety and equipment levels are driving new buyer inquiry.

June had a record 106,541 sales, up 1444, or 1.4 per cent, on the same month last year, and a record for any month in Australian motor-vehicle sales history.

Toyota is now more than 60,000 ahead of its nearest rival Holden, with a tally of 127,440 sales.

Last month it became the first company in Australia to sell more than 25,000 vehicles in a month when it recorded 25,600 sales.

As it did in 2007, the Corolla is storming ahead, outselling the fleet favourite, the Holden Commodore, but it is the HiLux that has surprised pundits.

In April the HiLux knocked off the Holden Commodore as the country's best-selling vehicle and end-of-financial-year deals helped push its sales to 4530 last month, with a yearly tally of 22,132.

Toyota's success has a lot to do with its market clout and penetration in just about all vehicle segments.

It has cars from the economical Yaris to the V8 turbodiesel LandCruiser off-roader and its split strategy of the Camry four-cylinder and Aurion V6 seems to be paying off, even if rivals refer to the Aurion as the Camry V6.

Other Toyota strengths are its strong marketing, and knowing its buyers.

But with rising fuel prices, tightening credit and interest-rate issues, it is not alone in predicting some softening in the run to December.

But Toyota is buoyed by a strong order bank for many of its cars, including the HiLux and Corolla, and analysts say the company's pricepoints and reputation will hold up well against outside issues facing the car industry.

The Corolla is the company's hottest property. It became Australia's best-selling car in the first half of the year, the first time Corolla, or any Toyota, has topped the country's new-vehicle sales chart at the half-way point of a year.

Australian motorists bought 24,415 Corollas in the first six months of this year - an increase of more than 7.3 per cent on the same period last year.

Corolla was the best-selling vehicle last month, with 5023 sales, followed by the HiLux, with 4530.

The Holden Commodore was third last month, posting 4274 sales for a six-month total of 23,323 cars - 1092 fewer than Corolla.

Yaris, 2770, Aurion, 2552, and Camry, 2261, were among the top 10 sellers last month. Prado, 1749, led the SUV market.

Toyota's market share so far this year is 23.5 per cent, a slight gain of 1.3 per cent on the same period last year.

Holden's overall share is down 2.1 per cent, which will be worrying the bean-counters.

Despite having a strong sedan, ute and long-wheelbase line-up, the company's South Korean strategy has some holes in it.

Sales of the Viva sedan and wagon are down more than 14 per cent, and the Barina is struggling.

Only the Captiva and Epica seem to be working out.

The Captiva has found 5633 buyers this year and even the lukewarm Epica has lifted numbers to 1332, up from 1096 for the same time last year.

By contrast Ford's Euro small cars like the Focus and Fiesta have performed well, achieving sales of 8561 and 3866 respectively.

Even its new mid-sizer, the Mondeo, has snared 2518, with Ford underestimatingd demand for the turbodiesel model.

The late arrival of the new FG Falcon meant that June results of 3483 were about what the company expected.

Ford's Broadmeadows factory is ramping up production of the G Series sedans after starting with the base XT model and dealers are reporting strong interest and growing orders for the G Series cars.

Luxury-car sales, too, with the impending rise in the luxury-car tax, shot up last month.

Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all report strong June sales in a pull-forward of sales before the new tax comes into effect.

Mercedes-Benz sold 2054 vehicles, Audi 907 and BMW 2258.

The arrival of the new Jaguar XF bolstered Jaguar's June result, with 124 cars sold; and even Land Rover shifted 491 vehicles.

 

REPORT CARD

Small cars GOOD

Compact 4x4s GOOD

Pick-ups GOOD

Sedans POOR

 

How the makes and models compare

TOP 10 MAKES (June)

1 Toyota 25,624

2 Holden 11,968

3 Ford 10,286

4 Mazda 7524

5 Mitsubishi 8336

6 Nissan 5352

7 Honda 6217

8 Hyundai 5447

9 Subaru 4116

10 Volkswagen 3305

 

TOP 10 MAKES (YTD)

1 Toyota 127,440

2 Holden 67,123

3 Ford 54,469

4 Mazda 42,493

5 Mitsubishi 35,167

6 Nissan 30,800

7 Honda 30,168

8 Hyundai 24,417

9 Subaru 20,806

10 Volkswagen 16,407

 

TOP 10 MODELS (June)

1 Toyota Corolla 5023

2 Toyota HiLux 4530

3 Holden Commodore 4274

4 Ford Falcon 3482

5 Mazda3 3286

6 Toyota Yaris 2770

7 Mitsubishi Lancer 2667

8 Honda Civic 2644

9 Toyota Aurion 2552

10 Toyota Camry 2261

 

TOP 10 MODELS (YTD)

1 Toyota Corolla 24,415

2 Holden Commodore 23,323

3 Toyota HiLux 22,132

4 Mazda3 17,458

5 Ford Falcon 14,781

6 Toyota Yaris 13,704

7 Toyota Camry 11,771

8 Toyota Aurion 11,387

9 Honda Civic 10,897

10 Mitsubishi Lancer 10,498

 

who's hot

SUZUKI

June was the 19th straight month of cumulative increases for Suzuki, which has cemented a place as one of Australia's fastest-growing brands.

A total of 2419 Suzukis were sold last month, making it the best month in the company's history with a 2.2 per cent gain over the previous high-water mark in June last year.

Another record result confirms Suzuki is now being considered against the historical volume players in the Australian market, Suzuki Australia general manager Tony Devers says.

Like so many others, Suzuki is cashing in on successful new models, including the SX4, though the baby Swift - a former CARSguide Car of the Year - is still the bedrock for the brand. It has also claimed a 21 per cent increase for Grand Vitara, and the tiny Jimny four-wheel drive, which has been relaunched in 2008, is up 35 per cent.

Suzuki sold 12,140 vehicles in the first half of the year, an 11.3 per cent increase on last year.

"With rising petrol prices having a noticeable effect on customer choices, Suzuki is perfectly positioned to offer a range of vehicles offering great fuel economy, superb build quality and terrific value for money," Devers says.

 

MAZDA

Mazda is well on track for an 80,000-plus year. Better than its most ambitious target.

Last month it sold 7524 vehicles, up 8.5 per cent on the same time last year.

The Mazda2's tally of 1540 is a record for the nameplate and even the ageing Mazda3 continues to perform well, selling 3284 last month.

The Mazda3's year-to-date sales of 17,458 makes it the third best- selling car - not vehicle - in Australia behind the Corolla and Commodore.

 

SUBARU

All-wheel drive continues to be Subaru's trump card.

It achieved a record of 4116 vehicles last month, with an overall lift in sales of 6.4 per cent for the year so far.

The new-generation Forester was a star performer, with 1668 sold, an increase of 13.2 per cent.

Impreza continued its strong start with 1031 sales, up 16.0 per cent. The refreshed Tribeca also performed well, with 161 sales, up 47.5 per cent.

Liberty and Outback sales of 788 and 468 respectively contributed to the impressive result.

 

who's not

SSANGYONG

This brand is struggling, with sales down 25 per cent this year despite a revamping of its model line-up.

A lack of cohesive marketing, low dealer numbers and quirky styling continues to dog the brand. Only 920 have found homes so far this year.

 

SAAB

What can we say?

With only two models in the line-up, the 9-3 and 9-5, Saab needs an injection of product right away.

It's coming, in the form of a new four-wheel drive and small model but they are some way off.

With sales of only 806 so far this year, it makes you wonder why GM Premium Brands bothers with the Swede.

 

RENAULT

Even tough sales have improved 2.2 per cent overall this year, the French carmaker's typically arrogant attitude to the Asia-Pacific market is working against it.

The new Laguna and Clio sports model give it some hope, but only if the French executives get out of their ivory towers in Paris and come have a look at our market for a better understanding of what it needs to survive and prosper.

 

PEUGEOT

The model changeover from the 307 to the 308 may have upset Peugeot's strong run, but sales are off 17 per cent this year.

The 207 is a strong card and once the 308 becomes more widely known for its quality and driving experience we suspect things will pick up.

The 407 is in desperate need of some strong marketing.

 

NISSAN

Look beyond the nameplate and there are some strong individual performers, like the the X-Trail and Navara.

But the Tiida still mystifies people, a Pulsar by any other name really. The miniscule Micra is picking up some well-earned praise for its price and packaging, so there is some hope.

The Dualis has fallen short of the mark, though, and essentially Nissan still has to climb out from its tag as a four-wheel-drive brand if it wants to improve.

Sales have slipped 4.3 per cent this year.

 

LEXUS

Treading water a bit with sales up only 0.3 per cent this year, the six-model range is strong on quality but short on driver involvement. The IS and GS are perhaps the exceptions. They are competent, but not engaging cars, and the volume RX series is due for replacement soon. It cannot come soon enough.

 

CITROEN

Again, the French! Some perky little performers in the C3 turbodiesel and C4, but it seems Aussie buyers prefer Japanese.

Citroen sales are off 13.5 per cent on the same period last year.

The Grand Picasso is the only interesting one to watch.

 

ALFA ROMEO

Nothing wrong with the product but others do it better and more aggressively.

Alfa importer Ateco Automotive has sold 717 Alfa Romeos this year, down 25 per cent on the same period last year.

The arrival of the sexy Mi.To could spur things on for the brand.

 

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