SUV sales continue to climb
DESPITE the rising cost of fuel, New Zealanders seem more committed to the idea of an SUV as their personal choice for transport than ever before, said the Motor Trade Association.
Analysis of the new car market over the last five years shows owners have taken to SUVs in steadily increasing numbers and are now just behind small cars as the largest segment in the market. Sales in 2010 totalled almost 11,500 with Toyota’s RAV4 and Highlander battling for the top spots with models like Mitsubishi’s Outlander range.
This growth, from 20 to 26 per cent of overall new car sales in that time, was not really surprising said Ian Stronach, the association’s marketing and communications general manager.
‘‘The trend towards SUVs is well established in overseas markets and has been for some time. We’ve basically just followed that growth in popularity here. As more models become available, it may well become the most popular class of vehicle,’’ he said.
Surprisingly, some of this growth appears to have come at the expense of smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles.
During 2010, the small car segment (typically under 1.5 litres) dropped from 29 to 27 per cent of the new car market with the light segment (typically 1.6-2.0 litres) suffering an even larger reduction, falling from 20 per cent to 17 per cent.
Fuel prices have traditionally been a key factor in vehicle choice, with a swing to smaller cars as prices increase.
This time though, despite petrol increasing in price by around 20 per cent during 2010, buyers have opted for SUVs at an ever greater rate, a vehicle type not generally associated with high levels of fuel efficiency.
‘‘It may be that owners have become more resigned to higher fuel prices over the last few years and are making their decisions based on factors other than fuel efficiency. There has not been the large-scale shift to smaller cars that may have been expected and it seems likely that lifestyle factors are increasingly coming in to play,’’ Mr Stronach said.
With vehicle weights typically starting from 1500kg, a high seating position that affords good visibility and with an air of ruggedness surrounding them, SUVs are often regarded by buyers as a ‘‘safer’’ alternative to traditional cars. Without doubt, this has been one of the factors that have seen SUVs increasingly favoured by those that still need larger carrying capacity, be it for luggage or passengers.
Their design means people are increasingly passing over the traditional ‘‘big six’’ type car in favour of something that will meet their space requirements but at the same time is considered by many to have a more sporting appeal, despite the fact that some SUVs are now only being offered with two-wheel drive capability.
Even though this most recent SUV surge has seen buyers migrating from almost all other market segments it has been the large car segment (3.0 litres and above) that has been hardest hit. At 12 per cent it is now half the level it was in 2004.
Traditional favourites like Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon remain relatively popular within a reduced segment, albeit at volumes that have virtually halved in the past five years.
Over the years, manufacturers have become adept at anticipating customers’ changing needs.
While a significant increase in fuel costs may drive more people to smaller and more fuel efficient cars, for now at least, SUVs really have become part and parcel of the New Zealand driving landscape.
Committed: New Zealanders love their SUVs.