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The light brigade

The Fiat Punto is of particular interest at the Adelaide Motor Show because it signals the return to Australia of passenger cars under the Fiat banner. The Punto is the number one selling small car in Europe so far this year and is sure to shake things up in Australia when it arrives in the middle of this year. Returning to passenger cars in Australia with a small car is a well-researched move for Fiat, at least according to movements within the local industry.

Holden boss Denny Mooney stated clearly that 2005 was the year of the small car, at least for the Elizabeth-based manufacturer. With new models fl owing into the country from around the world, obviously the bosses at many other marques think a similar way.

The trend to smaller cars began in earnest last year – in line with rising fuel prices. A total of about 90,000 light and 215,000 small cars were sold last year, with lights up 6000 units on the previous year and smalls up 34,000 units. In September, Toyota’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder Corollas out-sold the Holden Commodore – widely considered to be Australia’s favourite car – by about 100 units.

There is no suggestion that Mr Mooney and other Holden heads were simply reacting to that little towelling by Toyota when it began rolling out its lightweight Korean-built products including Barina and Viva late last year, but it is indicative of how local makers have had to arrange their product line-ups to be competitive. Holden, with its highly successful Astra models and the Barina and Viva ranges, now has its largest fl eet of small car options – many of which will be at Wayville.

Toyota certainly has not dropped the ball. Its Echo replacement, the Yaris, is selling like little hot cakes in its hatch version – with the recently released sedan model also expected to draw plenty of attention in coming months.

Ford Australia boss Tom Gorman said heading towards the end of last year that Ford had completely under-called the growth in the small car segment. Ford struggled to get the number of Focus vehicles it could sell out of its South African plant. But the Blue Oval badge company will this year try to excite the small car segment with its much anticipated XR5 Focus.

All the while, Asian car makers including Hyundai, with its award-winning Getz, and Kia with an all-new Rio range, added to the competition.

Nissan has chipped in with the new Tiida and the Suzuki Swift last year won CARSguide Car of the Year as the small car range grew dramatically. As the popularity of the segment grows, so too does the commitment to safety.

Toyota, with its Yaris range, appears to be leading the way. But other manufacturers, particularly Hyundai – with its safety pack on the Getz – judged Australia’s Best Small Car by the nation’s motoring organisations – also have not ignored the issue of safety.