A decade in motoring

Examining the changes the Australian automotive industry faced in the past decade.

If you could look in the rear-view mirror to 2010, you’d be shocked by what you saw. Just 10 years ago the Holden Commodore was Australia’s best-selling car, SUVs and utes barely made a dent in the car market and safety technology was in its infancy. 

Here’s how Australia’s automotive industry has changed from 2010 - 2020.

The death of the passenger car

The passenger car was once a staple of the Australian automotive industry with the Holden Commodore, Toyota Camry and Mazda 3 maintaining the top spots on sales charts for most of the decade.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Toyota Hilux 4X4 has become Australia’s top-selling car for 2018-19 closely followed by the Ford Ranger. SUVs have also carved out a significant market share and are responsible for 43% of the new car market.

RACQ Motoring Editor Barry Green said the massive uptake of SUVs at the expense of passenger cars appeared to have no end.

“Buyers obviously love the packaging by way of a high and commanding seating position and perceived additional space,” Mr Green said.

“Manufacturers have duly noted and responded to the demand. So much so, that there are now segments within segments in the SUV market.

“There’s compact, small, medium, medium-large and large, and five and seven-seat.”   

The end of Australian car manufacturing 

October 2017 marked the end of an era in Australian car manufacturing with Holden switching off its production line. The closure followed the collapse of Ford (2016) and Toyota(2017), ending an industry which had been active since the 1940s.  

In 2019, ‘Australia’s own family car’, Holden, announced it would cease production of the Commodore in favour of producing only medium and large SUVs, and in 2020, General Motors announced the retirement of the Holden brand in Australia and New Zealand.

Mr Green said he could not believe how the times had changed. 

For the lion’s share of its 41 years of production, the Commodore was Australia’s most popular car, topping the sales chart for 15 consecutive years from 1996 to the end of 2011,” he said. 

“At its zenith in 1998, Holden sold more than 94,500 units; this year, it’s shaping up to a mere 6000.”

READ RACQ MOTORING EDITOR GED BULMER'S TAKE ON THE DEMISE OF HOLDEN IN AUSTRALIA.

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Low-emission vehicles 

At the start of the decade there was very little take-up of low-emission vehicles with only 49 electric vehicles sold across Australia in 2011. Fast forward to 2019 and consumers have started their move away from fossil fuels as hybrid sales outnumbered diesel in the passenger car market for the first time.

RACQ’s Transport Planning and Infrastructure Advisor Grace Willems said more needs to be done in terms of reducing costs and access to charging infrastructure to get more low emission vehicles on the road.

“The main issue is cost,” Ms Willems said.

“Costs can be addressed in several ways, but gradually vehicles will become cheaper as technology and uptake improve.”

Autonomous driving and Advanced safety technology

In 2010, many were hopeful the self-driving car would be fully realised. Unfortunately, while some Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are becoming common, automated vehicles have not matured to the point where the driver can fully relinquish control.

Another hurdle is for the government and automotive industry to update the laws about who is liable in the event of a crash for a partially automated vehicle.

While automated vehicles may still be in development, one of the most significant advancements in the automotive industry over the past decade has been safety technology. 

At the start of the decade most vehicles were fitted with standard features such as airbags and Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS). Now vehicles are fitted with a wide range of ADAS including active lane assist programs which allows the car to adjust steering to prevent lane drifting. 

There are also systems which can automatically apply the brakes for an emergency stop and infra-red camera systems which offer drivers night vision capabilities for after-dark driving.

RACQ Head of Technical and Safety Policy Steve Spalding said while ADAS helped improve safety, drivers were still responsible for the safe operation of their vehicles.

“As the name of these technologies suggest – they assist drivers, they don’t replace them,” Mr Spalding said.

“A car with these systems is likely to be safer than a car without, however there are limitations and they should be used in addition to, not instead of, a driver paying attention to the road.”

“While automated vehicles will be in our future, we’re not there yet and drivers need to be familiar with the features of their car and in control at all times.”