SALES of SUVs — also known as “faux-wheel-drives” and “soft-roaders” because they’re more suited to sealed roads despite their rugged looks — have overtaken passenger cars for the first time in Australian automotive history.
According to official sales figures in February, 35,497 SUVs were reported as sold versus 34,740 passenger cars.
However, year-to-date, passenger cars remain narrowly ahead of SUVs: just 36 sales apart, 69,660 compared to 69,624.
Our changing taste in vehicles comes as more drivers favour the high driving position and better cargo flexibility of SUVs over traditional sedans and hatches.
The arrival of more “pint-sized” but high-riding hatchbacks — categorised as SUVs — is also behind the surge.
“This one monthly outcome doesn’t signal a landslide but clearly Australian buyers are attracted by the features and capabilities of new generation SUVs, and how these types of vehicles suit their needs and lifestyles,” said the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber.
The February figures also revealed the biggest new-car sales slowdown since the Global Financial Crisis.
Sales of all new vehicles were down 7.7 per cent in February: 89,025 deliveries versus 96,443 in the same month last year.
“It’s important to look at sales results in the proper context because February 2016 was an unusually strong month,” said Mr Weber. “It included one extra selling day and saw a lot of activity in the market. This resulted in a 6.7 per cent surge over February 2015.”
Nevertheless, the sudden drop in new-car deliveries means dealers will be more desperate to move metal in the coming months as they clear last year’s stock, sparking further discounts.
Toyota continued to lead the market ahead of Mazda and Hyundai, but Holden had a shocker, down 22 per cent to fifth place and was overtaken by Mitsubishi. The Commodore only just stayed inside the Top 10.
Holden’s sales and marketing chief Peter Keley said sales were slow because the full Astra line-up was yet to arrive in showrooms and many customers placed forward orders for limited edition Commodores.
“We actually grew our order bank for the Commodore but that’s not reflected in the February figures,” said Mr Keley. “As those cars are built you will see Commodore sales pick up in the coming months.”
Ford posted first decline after 14 months of growth (down 15 per cent), its sales dented after Territory and Falcon reach the end of the line.
Despite the popularity of SUVs, only three are in the Top 10 — the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson — because the market is so fragmented.