WITH THE SECOND HIGHEST April sales result on record, and consumer confidence strong, new car sales would appear to be steaming ahead on a clear ocean to a record, or near-record, year.
The official VFACTS sales figures released by the FCAI (the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries) shows that sales of passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles were up 27.3 percent as compared to April 2009.
Of course, you will all remember that in April last year things had all-but stalled (slumping 23.9 percent on the previous year), and the Federal Government's small business stimulus package (announced in February) had yet to begin to bite.
This year, it is still the business sector that is fuelling sales - sales to the rental sector are up by 167.0 percent year-to-date (YTD), to the business sector up by 28.1 percent (YTD), and to private buyers up by just 11.6 percent (YTD). This suggests that middle Australia still has some doubts about the economy and the security of their household budgets.
There are two words behind those doubts; the same two words that could derail the return to health in new car sales: interest rates. FCAI Chief Executive Andrew McKellar is clearly alive to the dangers of a Reserve Bank slamming the 'interest rate brakes' on too hard.
"It has to be expected that recent interest rate increases will have some dampening effect on demand over coming months," he said.
At what point does consumer sentiment turn, and confidence crumble? That's the dilemma for Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens and one the motor industry will be hoping he gets right. Certainly, household incomes disappearing into servicing rapidly rising home-loan repayments will impact on new car sales.
Despite the performance to date, another one or two interest rate rises (as many are predicting) and the industry can kiss goodbye to another million-plus sales year for 2010.
Of course, on the plus side, the Australian economy and Australian car buyers have shown extraordinary (and surprising) resilience right through the global financial crisis.
So, where are we now with car sales and who's winning at the moment?
The top twenty models in the country for April 2010
- Holden Commodore: 3165 sales (plus Commodore ute sales of 812) total: 3977 sales
- Ford Falcon: 2763 sales (plus 794 Falcon ute sales) total: 3557 sales
- Toyota HiLux: 2148 sales 4X4 (plus 1271 sales of 4X2) total: 3419 sales
- Mazda3: 3079 sales
- Toyota Corolla: 2829 sales
- Holden Cruze: 2514 sales
- Hyundai i30: 2483 sales
- Hyundai Getz: 2192 sales
- Mitsubishi Lancer: 1912 sales
- Toyota Camry: 1434 sales (plus 396 Hybrid sales) total: 1830 sales
- Toyota Yaris: 1799 sales
- Toyota Prado: 1488 sales
- Nissan Navara: 1327 sales 4X4 (plus 131 sales 4X2) total: 1458 sales
- VW Golf: 1314 sales
- Subaru Forester: 1116 sales
- Mazda2: 1115 sales
- Holden Captiva: 1095 sales
- Ford Territory: 1085 sales
- Ford Focus: 1025 sales
- Toyota Aurion: 1024 sales
What's interesting in that list? Well, where's the Kluger?... that's interesting. It is off the page with just 898 sales, soundly beaten by both Captiva and Territory.
Also, where are the medium cars? Only the Camry makes the cut into the top twenty in a poorly performing segment.
The market would also seem to be ignoring European mid-market brands like Peugeot, Renault, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Citroen - each is down YTD against 2009. And, incidentally, Honda is the only Japanese manufacturer in decline for 2010, down 10.0 percent YTD.
Given the strength of its line-up, the Accord Euro in particular being such a value drive, this is difficult to understand.
Markets are funny things.