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User-choosers keeping sedan sales afloat amid SUV boom

2015 Mazda6

The humble homegrown sedan may have been gobbled up by the all-conquering SUV but car makers are not prepared to give up on the family staple just yet.

Industry bosses say that there is still demand for sedans from executives who are salary-sacrificing to pay for a new set of wheels.

But the "user-chooser" segment, long dominated by the locally built Holden Commodore, Toyota Camry and Ford Falcon, is set for a shake-up as rivals eye the potential spoils when local manufacturing shuts down.

Mazda MD Martin Benders says the brand will be going after the Toyota Camry, which has dominated the mid-sized sedan market for years.

"The buyers in this segment remain largely corporate and ‘user-chooser' buyers," he says. "We're doing more work in that sector with product support and appropriate dealer training and engagement to ensure we capture our share.

"The medium segment continues to be a story of one Goliath and many Davids. It's also a segment that's fast losing any relevance or resonance with private buyers as they search for their favourite SUV option."

But he says there is an opportunity for Mazda in the segment and "that will increase as the locals leave ... When Camry winds down, that changes the landscape significantly." In chasing sedan buyers, Mazda isn't alone — prestige brands are laying siege too. Mercedes-Benz's C-Class is now comfortably Australia's second-best selling mid-sized sedan, while BMW has just launched a new 3 Series and Audi will have a new A4 on sale in February.

There is still significant scope for sedans

The C-Class has tallied almost twice as many sales as the Mazda 6 this year, the 3 Series has outsold the Subaru Liberty and the A4 has overshadowed VW's Passat.

Audi managing director Andrew Doyle says there is still significant scope for sedans.

"There's a lot of commentary about the sedan segment trending down as customers are obviously buying, especially in this country, the SUVs," he says. "The reality is it's not so black and white. We see tremendous opportunity for the A4."

He says there are still buyers "interested in a good sedan. It's been a great segment for a long time for Audi and will continue to be so. (In) small segment sales, the A3 sedan has been extremely successful for us."

Intense competition in the luxury segment, he says, had pushed the German marques to dramatically improve the value for money and buyers had responded. More than one in 10 passenger vehicles sold this year bore luxury badges on their bonnets — a decade ago the ratio was roughly one in 20.

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