Tim O'Brien | Aug 6, 2013


Car sales were up again in July 2013. In a still-robust market, the biggest news is that Holden’s new VF Commodore has found renewed favour with buyers.

The VF has single-handedly reversed the declining trend in large car sales by dragging the whole segment into positive territory – just, it’s up 0.7 percent.

After its first full month of sales, but held back by production constraints as the factory gears to orders, the new Commodore notched up 2827 sales for July, a 17.8 percent increase on July 2012.

“We’ve seen very strong early sales for our performance sedans. The SS-V, Calais-V and our Redline variants have definitely hit the sweet spot,” Holden’s Director of Sales, Philip Brook said.

Add the 590 Holden Ute sales, and the new Commodore platform has recorded a very healthy 3447 sales for July.


The Market

For July, VFACTS has recorded 90,235 new vehicle registrations, showing a market that has grown by 4.1 percent.

With 663,946 sales for the year-to-date (YTD), up a very healthy 4.6 percent for the first seven months, the records in car sales look set to keep tumbling.

If the tax concession changes to the FBT rules are going to bite the market – the removal of that little perk that has everyone running around wailing and waving their arms in the air – there is no sign of any teeth marks yet.

FCAI, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (who compiles the VFACTS figures on the state of the market) claims that the new FBT rules will wipe $3.4 billion in new car sales over a full year.

This is looking like alarmist nonsense.


Top Ten best selling cars, July 2013

  1. Toyota Corolla: 3945 sales, ▲ 32.2 percent on July 2012
  2. Mazda3: 3464 sales, ▲ 3.2 percent
  3. Holden Commodore: 2827 sales, ▲ 17.8 percent
  4. Holden Cruze: 2467 sales, ▲ 31.6 percent
  5. Hyundai i30: 2290 sales, ▲ 12.0 percent
  6. Toyota HiLux 4x4: 2098 sales, ▼ 31.1 percent
  7. Toyota Camry: 2061 sales, ▲ 16.1 percent
  8. Mazda CX-5: 1638 sales, ▲ 10.5 percent
  9. Toyota RAV4: 1521 sales, ▲ 43.4 percent
  10. Ford Focus: 1514 sales, ▲ 38.6 percent

Interestingly, add the HiLux 4x2 sales (873) into HiLux figures, and it records a total of 2971 sales.

This has it moving into third place, ahead of the Commodore, but well down on its heydays of market leadership.

The HiLux is being brought back to the pack in the hotly contested 4x4 ute market by the rampant Mitsubishi Triton 4x4, up 155.9 percent on heavy, heavy discounting and notching up 1410 sales for the month.

The new Holden Colorado 4x4 continues to perform well, with 1374 sales, up 18.6 percent. It’s beating Ford’s Ranger which remains strong with 1216 sales, but cooling slightly – down 2.7 percent.

The Mazda BT-50 continues to press its cause with 773 sales, up 18.9 percent, but Nissan’s Navara has taken a whack, down 43.9 percent on July 2012, with 1111 sales.

For Mitsubishi and Nissan, their performance in the commercial sector is playing through to their ranking in new car sales.

For those with an eye to irony, Isuzu’s solid and dependable D-Max 4x4 ute recorded 658 sales for the month, soundly beating the Falcon sedan’s 590 sales.

(It seems the market itself is going to wind down production of the Falcon; at this rate it won’t see 2016.)

While the Ford brand is performing reasonably well across the market - thanks to the strong Focus and Ranger - it will be looking to rack up runs further down the order with the updated Fiesta arriving soon, a greatly improved new Kuga and the arrival of the feisty EcoSport.


Top Ten Marques, July 2013

  1. Toyota: 17433 sales, down 2.0 percent on July 2012
  2. Holden: 10,137 sales, up 13.4 percent
  3. Mazda: 8535 sales, up 7.2 percent
  4. Hyundai: 8009 sales, up 5.3 percent
  5. Ford: 6033 sales, down 2.5 percent
  6. Mitsubishi: 5655 sales, up 65.0 percent
  7. Nissan: 5074 sales, down 17.6 percent
  8. Volkswagen: 3705 sales, down 6.5 percent
  9. Subaru: 3102 sales, up 2.6 percent
  10. Honda: 2746 sales, down 4.3 percent

And Golf, you ask, how is it going after the Fairfax bludgeoning? It sold 1225 cars for July, up 57.9 percent on July 2012 (but remains down 13.1 percent YTD).

It drives so well it sells itself.

Volkswagen itself is down, but just a little: it will take more than a couple of months to reassure buyers sufficiently to recover its market position.

(Some manufacturers manage recalls better than others; some respond to market challenges better than others. But as every manufacturer knows: “There but for the grace of God...”)


The ‘white noise’ in the July VFACTS

Opel’s announced departure, and its inability to gain traction despite some very good products, highlighted this ridiculously overpopulated market and the dire challenges some smaller brands face here.

Opel sold 111 cars in July.

But take Infiniti, for instance. It has some deep pockets behind it, but its performance must surely be beginning to furrow brows.

Last Saturday, showing all the world the depth of its struggle, Infiniti ran full page print adverts advertising discounted 2012-badged cars. (Infiniti might have been better off advertising here; a lot cheaper, a lot more car buyers.)

We’re now a long way into 2013. These cars, though new, may have been sitting in a holding lot for more than eighteen months.

Infiniti sold 18 cars in July, just one G Coupe, just four M sedans, and 13 FX SUVs.

We like the cars: they are simply beautifully-built and each goes like a cut cat, but maybe there just isn’t the space in the heads of buyers for yet another prestige brand.

Citroen must also be perplexing Sime Darby; Skoda must be confounding Volkswagen. Each are strong brands in Europe, and each drives better than most – but Australian buyers just don’t seem to be warming to them.

A dollar heading south against the greenback will certainly have some brands reassessing their efforts here – or at least holding a watching brief – and wondering whether the battle is worth it.


Whither LPG? Or just withering...

Lastly, there was a grand total of just 332 LPG vehicles sold in July 2013. And just 18 LPG passenger cars to private buyers.

What is it about LPG that buyers don’t get?

The Falcon EcoLPi drives every bit as well as the petrol model. Ditto the Commodore and Ute with LPG Vapour Injection.

With a dollar in decline, and upward global pressure on crude and MOGAS prices (as the world economy slowly drags itself from the doldrums), petrol is now marching north beyond $1.60 a litre.

It is likely to hit $1.80 in the medium to longer term.

Why, then, why does this gas that Australia produces in abundance, that is less than half the cost of petrol, that burns ‘greener’ and better protects internal components, why does it not garner the attention of car buyers?

An LPG Falcon or Holden is cheaper, or as cheap, to run as many of the better performing small cars.

Yet there we have it: 18 LPG passenger vehicle sales to private buyers, 15 light commercial LPG sales to private buyers, and just 332 LPG vehicle sales in all.

Perhaps, on the unlikely premise that Labor gets returned to office, Senator Carr’s undertaking for Government Departments to buy locally manufactured cars might see this figure finally begin to move.

Next month we’ll examine closely movements in SUV and 4x4 ute sales.

Tim O’Brien
TMR Managing Editor

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