Tim O'Brien | Apr 8, 2010

IF YOU HAVE NOTICED your local car dealer walking around of late with a sillier grin than usual, it's because the new car market is booming. With the market up 25.2 percent against March 2009, and up 18.2 percent year-to-date (YTD), things are right on track for a one million-plus 2010.

For the March quarter, total vehicle sales stand at 251,827.

And anyone selling Holden, Hyundai, Mazda, Nissan, or Toyota will be grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Although volume brands (which is why we didn't include on that list Audi, Jaguar, and Alfa Romeo among other bit players), each has recorded a 20 percent-plus increase in sales over the same period in 2009.

While Hyundai is taking prisoners everywhere, up 58.9 percent with 7,797 sales for March 2010 and up 66.3 percent YTD, the big surprises are Holden with 11,795 sales (up 28.4 percent), Toyota with 20,306 sales (up 22.3 percent), and Nissan with 6,558 sales, up 49.2 percent against March 2009.

Showing sales growth of that order on those volumes is impressive. It is also an indication of a settled and confident family-buyer market.

A further indication of the confidence in middle Australia is the rise and rise of the mid-priced medium SUV sector.

SUV sales have wildly out-performed the market, up 44.1 percent for March and up 34.3 percent YTD. And within the SUV segment, medium SUVs – the ones most commonly bought by family buyers - have seen the largest rise, up 55.8 percent.

So, Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens can rest easy. His interest rate hikes would appear to not yet be inflicting too much pain on middle Australia, at least when it comes to replacing the 'family bus'.

For Holden, the Captiva is its star performer, up 152.6 percent and up 59.5 percent YTD. It now sits second in the medium SUV segment behind the Prado, with 2087 sales, and outselling the Kluger's 1,309 sales.

In this medium SUV segment, Ford's Territory, although clearly the better car, could only notch up 964 sales (although up a creditable 26.3 percent for March and up 15.6 percent YTD).

In the passenger car market, large cars are now in third place in sales volumes with 8,816 sales for March; behind small cars with 22,463 total sales, and light cars with 12,153 sales.

And where have these large cars buyers gone? They've defected to medium and compact SUVs; these two sectors showing a combined total of 18,341 sales for March.

In the large car sector, Holden's Commodore has slightly underperformed the market (up 18.8 percent for March and up 13.9 percent YTD), but, with 4209 sales for March remains Australia's top-selling car. Those figures easily account for its natural enemy, Ford's Falcon with 2,496 sales (although the Falcon is up 25.4 percent).

The Commodore however is being hunted down for top-spot in the sales charts by a terrier-pack of small cars. Hyundai's i30 notched up 3,678 sales for March, Mazda3 sold 3,562, and Toyota's Corolla 3,555. (Here, the Cruze is also gaining a bit of traction, recording 2,125 sales - not far shy, you'll note, of Falcon's total.)

Anyone interested in what's happening to Saab and Hummer on the sales front?

No? Couldn't care? Well we'll tell you anyway: Hummer notched up 14 sales for March (adding the spittoon and the gun-rack to the options list has clearly paid dividends), but this result was still down 88.5 percent on March 2009.

Saab is still in no-man's land recording zero sales for March, down from a solitary unit (one) the month before (that's a 100 percent decline). The other Swede, Volvo, recorded 469 sales, up 58.4 percent against March 2009 – a result that shows the benefits of not making a complete hash of selling the brand, as GM has done with Saab.

Also worth noting is that the serial underperforming Honda has at last recorded some monthly sales figures it doesn't have to hide from head office. Its sales of 4,153 for the month is up 24.0 percent against March 2009, although it inexplicably remains down 13.1 percent YTD.

Lastly, what's the story with Skoda in this time of plenty? The 'other Volkswagen' could only manage 80 sales in total for March. We at TMR reckon the Octavia and Superb are among the best buys in their respective segments, but the market would appear to be somewhat underwhelmed and clearly unconvinced.

Unless there is a turnaround soon (perhaps the exposure on the Tour de France will pick things up – a detour through Lourdes might help), it is hard to see much future for the brand in this market.

So, here is the grinners' list for March:

 

Top Ten New Vehicle Sales by Marque

  1. Toyota - 20,306 sales - up 22.3 percent (March 2009), up 16.6 percent YTD
  2. Holden - 11,795 sales - up 28.4 percent, up 24.1 percent YTD
  3. Ford - 8,092 sales - up 6.9 percent, up 4.7 percent YTD
  4. Hyundai - 7,797 sales - up 58.9 percent, up 66.3 percent YTD
  5. Mazda - 7,453 sales - up 21.9 percent, up 11.0 percent YTD
  6. Nissan - 6,558 sales - up 49.2 percent, up 21.4 percent YTD
  7. Mitsubishi - 5,556 sales - up 18.4 percent, up 11.7 percent YTD
  8. Honda - 4,153 sales - up 24.0 percent, down 13.1 percent YTD
  9. Subaru - 3,679 sales - up 7.7 percent, up 10 percent YTD
  10. Volkswagen - 3,034 sales - up 20.3 percent, up 18 percent YTD