Australian new car sales slide continues in March

New car sales continue to track relentlessly downwards as social isolation and rising concerns about the coronavirus sap consumer confidence.

The third month of the Gregorian calendar wasn’t a good one for Julius Caesar, who was warned in the eponymous Shakespearean play to, “beware the ides of March.” 

While the month just passed in Australian new car sales hasn’t quite been the bloodbath foretold by Shakespeare’s soothsayer, it’s continued an alarming downward trend that shows no signs of abating anytime soon. 

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), the peak body for the automotive industry, announced new vehicle sales for the month of 81,690 units.

That represents a 17.9% fall compared with March 2019. Perhaps more significantly it marks the 24th consecutive month of negative growth for the car industry in Australia. 

The sales data comes at a time when the broader Australian economy is being battered by the impact of the coronavirus public health crisis, with the FCAI attributing the soft March sales to “the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the general economy”, while adding that the wider slump over the past two years has been caused by a issues including “environmental, political and economic factors.” 

Toyota easily retained its spot as Australia’s best-selling brand with 17,583 sales and was one of only a handful to maintain modest month- on-month and year-on-year growth. 

Mazda held second place with 6819 sales, despite dropping 2799 sales versus the same month last year and a whopping 7599 sales year to date.

It was a similar story for third-placed Mitsubishi with 6002 sales, down 4133 and 8676 units respectively. 

Korean brands Kia and Hyundai rounded out the top five with sales of 5654 and 5306 units, but both were also down 2425 and 3671 units on March 2019. 

Despite the pandemic, Australians are still deeply enamoured with utes – our top-selling vehicle in March being the Toyota HiLux with 3556 sales, followed by the Ford Ranger (3108 sales). 

"Many dealerships have opted to remain open to maintain support for customers ..."

Toyota took out two more spots in the list of top five best sellers with the RAV 4 (2991 sales) and Toyota Corolla (2812 sales). 

In a rare bit of good news for beleaguered Holden, the brand’s Colorado ute held down fifth spot on the list of individual best sellers, with 2391 sales.

Holden’s overall sales for the month were also up 1159 units on March last year, in what may be an indication that dealers are sharpening their pencils ahead of the brand’s closure at the end of 2020. 

FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber said despite the difficult conditions, numerous automotive dealerships around Australia remained open.

“Many dealerships have opted to remain open to maintain support for customers, particularly from a service perspective, during this difficult period,” he said.

“Of particular importance are first responder and essential services vehicles.  We must keep these vehicles on the road to ensure our communities continue to function and remain safe.

“In addition, we need to ensure those who physically attend their workplace can travel safely.

“The motor vehicle is a safe form of transport during the pandemic, allowing occupants to preserve their personal distance from other commuters.  

“Within dealerships, customer safety is of the highest priority, and automotive brands have initiated a variety of enhanced hygiene protocols and contactless consultations to maintain personal distance.”

The biggest losers in terms of year-on-year sales were Mazda (-7599), Mitsubishi (-8676), and Hyundai (-3671), with Holden (-2825) and Volkswagen (-2617) rounding out the five. 

The percent of lost market share year to date tells a different story to the raw sales numbers, however. 

Leaving aside the neck-of-the-bottle stuff like single model sports car brands, standouts for all the wrong reasons include: Fiat, down 45% (-147 sales); Jaguar down 38% (-274 sales); and Renault down 43% (-865 sales).

On the percentage flip side, several Chinese brands are having a good year, including Haval, which is up 171% (373 sales); Great Wall, up 65% (154 sales), and MG, up 93% (1600 sales).