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