Tim O'Brien | Feb 4, 2009

VFACTS figures released today contain confirmation of a dramatic slowdown in sales, some emerging trends and a couple of surprises. So what will we discuss first... the good news, of which there's some? Or the bad news, of which there is quite a lot?

Let's start with the grinners.

In the passenger car market, Hyundai has got to be the biggest grinner with sales up 16.7 percent in a market down 18.5 percent on January 2007. Another grinner is Audi, up 5.5 percent, Dodge (remarkably) up 4.1 percent, but off a very small base.

Also up off small (well, tiny) bases was Fiat, up 76.9 percent, who sold 138 cars compared to the 78 it sold last January; Jaguar, up 22 percent, selling 61 cars compared to the 50 sales last year; and Smart, who sold 35 cars compared to 13 at this time last year, giving it a 169.2 percent boost in sales.

Now the grim news: nearly all the big badges that matter took a pounding.

Ford was down 21.6 percent as a marque, but has a full month of the brilliant new Fiesta to look forward to in next month's figures; Toyota down 24.8 percent, but with new models due soon can expect that to flatten then improve; and Holden, with an excellent and brilliantly targeted advertising campaign, down just 14.5 percent on last year's January sales.

Mazda managed to hold the line, down just 8.0 percent (but with the Mazda3 securing top spot in Australian sales); Honda down 16 percent, which may be a little surprising given the accolades being showered on the Accord Euro; and VW also holding the line, down 10.3 percent.

Cars on highway

Tempering the gloom however, we need to remember that January sales last year were among the best ever. This year, with things fiscal still splashing around in the s-bend, and daily doses of doom and mayhem from a 'Chicken Little' inspired press, we were never likely to repeat last year's performance.

In fact, being 18.5 percent down for the industry overall - while bad, is not yet crippling. We'll need to see another month of sales before we start ringing the bells to "bring out the dead" on the new car market.

Some brands however, have the task ahead of them: Saab, down 59.4 percent, Alfa Romeo down 46.7 percent; Citroen down 47.5 percent and Chrysler down 32.5 percent.

An interesting trend to discern is the move away from medium cars (under $60k), down 22.1 percent as a segment, compared to large cars (under $70k and which includes Commodore, Falcon and Aurion), which was down just 10.7 percent. Of large cars, the FG Falcon was up 30 percent over the former model's 2007 January sales, and the Commodore down just 4.7 percent.

SUVs? You'd expect them to take a pounding, and they did. The bigger they are, the bigger the pounding in the showroom. Large SUVs were down 45.1 percent, Luxury segment, down 26.9 percent, and medium and small down 20.3 percent and 22.8 percent respectively.

So, some predictable results, and some less-predictable ones. But the bald statistic alone does not tell the real story of what is going on in showrooms.

There are some trends afoot that, while not lessening the challenge, may provide some encouragement to Falcon, Commodore and Camry. All is not as it seems. Next month will be very interesting.