How to KO a giant
The Corolla is set to knock the Commodore off its perch, writes PAUL GOVER
THE incredible reign of the Holden Commodore at the top of Australian motoring could end soon. The family favourite has been No.1 for more than 10 years and has beaten the Ford Falcon many times, but it has no answer to the Toyota Corolla. Like a Japanese David against the all-Aussie Goliath, the Corolla has cut down the Commodore as more and more people turn against petrol-guzzlers. The Corolla has turned occasional showroom victories over the Commodore last year into a long-running pattern this year, building a 1092-car lead at the halfway point of the sales race. Holden is about to hit back with its VE Sportwagon, previewed in today, but Toyota Australia is confident it will deliver 48,000 or more Corollas by the end of the year and is finally talking about taking top spot. ‘‘It’s like cream rising to the top,’’ Toyota Australia sales and marketing chief Dave Buttner says. ‘‘There is every possibility the Corolla will be No.1, and I’ve never said that before. ‘‘We’re ready to repeat our performance through the first half of the year and, if the large-six market continues in the direction it is going, it will be a good result for us. ‘‘If we can continue as we are going, at 2200 Corollas a month on average with the decline in big sixes, then I believe it will be sufficient.’’ Toyota has been selling the Corolla in Australia since 1967 and has never done better than today. It delivered 24,415 cars in the first six months of the year, a carsGuide 7.3 per cent improvement over the same period last year. But it is not just the Corolla. Small cars are booming and Toyota is riding a wave that has also made the Mazda3 the country’s No.3 passenger car, ahead of the Holden Commodore and the Ford Falcon. The working-class Toyota HiLux is second overall. ‘‘If you look at that segment alone, it’s grown from 18 to 38 per cent of the passenger-car market,’’ Buttner says of the small-car sector. ‘‘It’s a very competitive segment. If you look at small cars under $40,000 there are a lot of good cars and performers.’’ The Corolla is so good that it sells without much effort, sitting comfortably near 50,000 year after year and leading its class for eight straight years. ‘‘In terms of the marketing spend, we don’t need to put as much effort into selling the Corolla. It has had a solid reputation for many, many years. The product offering, with value for money, quality and reliability, has made it an enduring product.’’ Globally, Toyota has sold 34 million cars since the Corolla was born in 1966, an average one every 40 seconds. This year the company is building a Corolla every 23.3 seconds at 16 factories for sales in 140 countries.
AUSTRALIA almost lost the Corolla last year when head office in Japan pushed for a change to the Auris name used in Europe. ‘‘Corolla is a name we fought to keep. Others around the world moved but we kept it,’’ Buttner says. He knows the Corolla will have a tough fight to the end of the year, particularly with Holden getting the Sportwagon to sell alongside its VE Commodore sedan. And he has a vested interest in big-six business because Toyota also has its Aurion to build and sell. ‘‘I hope the Commodore wagon is successful. But it is selling in a segment where the large six is down another 16.2 per cent this year. It’s a segment that’s in decline.’’ And he is hedging on the importance of No.1 for the Corolla, even though it would match the one Toyota has won repeatedly for overall sales leadership since the start of the 21st century. ‘‘It hasn’t been a target of ours for Corolla to be No.1,’’ Buttner says. ‘‘But if we can maintain this performance there is a very strong possibility it could be No.1 for the year.’’
Leading the charge: the Toyota Corolla Levin SX (right) and the Corolla Ascent are heading for the top.