COVER­STORY

Small cars have grown big­ger and hun­grier, eat­ing into the sales of big Aussie sixes

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Car News - STU­ART MARTIN stu­art.martin@cars­guide.com.au

For those who came in late, the Com­modore’s days at No.1 are done. Here are the cars that stole the king’s sales

THERE was a lot hap­pen­ing in 1998. Steven Spiel­berg scored an Os­car di­rect­ing Sav­ing

Pri­vate Ryan, Ricky Martin was tak­ing a sip from The Cup of

Life and the Holden Com­modore hit its all-time sales peak of 94,642.

At the time, the Ade­laide­built Holden hero was only a few years into what would be­come a 15-year su­per-streak and, even though the Red Lion sur­ren­dered over­all sales lead­er­ship to the Toy­ota jug­ger­naut, it was still Australia’s favourite.

The Com­modore has had a bril­liant run since it first hit the road in 1978 but ris­ing fuel costs, cheap im­ports and chang­ing buyer pref­er­ences have stolen its lus­tre.

More and more peo­ple are switch­ing to small cars, which is why gm holden now builds the com­pact Cruze along­side the Com­modore— a de­vel­op­ment that put two Hold­ens into the top five sellers in 2011.

The Mazda3 nicked the Com­modore’s crown last year but Toy­ota also played a part, as the Corolla was Australia’s favourite for five months de­spite nat­u­ral dis­as­ters in Ja­pan and Thai­land that also nob­bled the Hilux work­horse.

Rolling back through the years, the sales num­bers are a re­flec­tion of both brand strengths and buyer pref­er­ences.

Ford’s Fal­con ruled the large-car roost in the 1980s, as Aussies pre­ferred the size and tough­ness of the Xd-se­ries Fords over the smaller Com­modore that had re­placed the fam­ily-favourite Kingswood.

The Fal­con peaked in 1985 with 81,000 sales be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of the VT Com­modore and the AU Fal­con – Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing’s equiv­a­lent of beauty and the beast – fi­nally buried the Fal­con chal­lenge.

The big Ford re­ally strug­gled through 2011, with sales down by 30 per cent, but there was good news from Detroit last month with a $103 mil­lion re­prieve from the ex­e­cu­tioner’s blade. A com­bi­na­tion of Ford Mo­tor Com­pany and fed­eral and state gov­ern­ment cash means there will be an up­date for the Broad­mead­ows-built Fal­con, although there’s still no word on its fu­ture be­yond 2016.

‘‘( Ford and Holden) have ex­cel­lent ve­hi­cles that they could ex­port,’’ says Glass’s Guide an­a­lyst Nick Adamidis.

‘‘ But I think there are po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions re­lat­ing to that. Ford are build­ing world­class ve­hi­cles but there seem to be is­sues af­fect­ing their ex­port abil­i­ties.’’

The Com­modore’s 15-year reign be­gan when the VS model recorded 83,001 sales in 1996, but the in­tro­duc­tion of the VT the fol­low­ing year re­ally pushed it along.

Sales stayed well above 80,000 un­til 2004, when the slow down­ward slide started – although the VE’S ar­rival in 2006 brought some brief re­lief with 57,307. By 2009 the sales vol­umes had halved from the peak to 44,387, stay­ing just above 40,000 last year.

The de­cline of the Com­modore and Fal­con is al­most a mir­ror im­age of the rise of small cars.

In 1996, Toy­ota sold 23,000 Corol­las and Mazda’s baby, the 323, man­aged just over 8000.

By 2000, the Corolla hit 30,000 and the Mazda small car had reached 11,000. In 2004, the re­spec­tive tal­lies were nearly 40,000 and just over 23,000.

When petrol prices spiked, the small-car rise re­ally shifted into gear— the Aus­tralian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion quotes Fuel­trac fig­ures of 85c to $1 a litre in early 2004 but up to $1.20-$1.35 by the end of 2005 — and not even a brief re­turn to near $1-a-litre fuel in 2009 could bring a full re­cov­ery to large car sales.

But the large car slide isn’t just ero­sion from small cars. Aus­tralians also have turned to SUVS in huge num­bers as re­place­ments for fam­ily sedans and wag­ons.

SUVS were the only class to in­crease sales in 2011, led by the com­pact and lux­ury seg­ments, but to­day’s SUVS are a long way from 4WDS. The em­pha­sis is on com­fort and equip­ment and many are even sold with­out AWD, shap­ing them as Com­modore wagon ri­vals.

SUV num­bers, both in sales and model choices, grew dra­mat­i­cally from the turn of the cen­tury, more than dou­bling in vol­ume by 2011 Com­pact SUVS are now the third most pop­u­lar class in show­rooms, and there is no sign of any slack­en­ing.

‘‘ I think SUVS will con­tin to grow,’’ says Adamidis. ‘‘ a struc­tural change in buyer be­hav­iour. Even though the do con­sume more fuel, peop see them as safer, more con­ve­nient and ver­sa­tile (bu they don’t take them off roa

The Subaru Forester fi­nis 2011 as the top com­pact SUV and its sales re­flect the over change. In the late 1990s Subaru Australia sold about 7000 Foresters a year, but th rose to al­most 12,000 in 200 more than 12,500 in 2005 an 13,010 in 2006.

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