by By Craig Duff and Richard Blackburn
Australians bought a record number of new vehicles last year, but buyers continue to shun traditional hatchbacks and sedans, as three of the top ten selling nameplates were work utes.
The Toyota HiLux was the number one selling vehicle for the second time in a row, while Ford's Ranger ute took the second step on the podium and the Mitsubishi Triton made the top ten.
The Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 hatchbacks filled the next three places, but cars were outsold by SUVs for the first time in a calendar year.
"Australians bought 465,646 SUVs during 2017 for a 39.2 per cent share of the total market, compared with 450,012 passenger cars with a 37.8 per cent share," the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber said.
"The shift in industry dynamic we observed last year has now become entrenched in our market. It is a growth pattern that we expect will continue."
Ute sales are growing at double-digit rates and now account for one in five new vehicles sold.
Toyota Australia president Matthew Callachor says the two categories are intertwined.
"SUV sales have grown 14 per cent (over the past two years) while sales of light commercial vehicles have grown 18.9 per cent. This surge in demand for vehicles like HiLux can be viewed as an extension of the popularity of SUVs," Callachor says.
The HiLux has been the best-selling commercial vehicle for the past 20 years but Callachor cites families and executives as adding to the potential buyer base and extending sales to more than 47,000 vehicles last year.
"Our most popular HiLux, accounting for one-in-four sales, is a (top-spec) SR5 four-wheel-drive with an automatic transmission," Callachor says. "We've moved to the point where the (utes) have car-like features and comfort."
"This is a global phenomena … I'm not suggesting this is the death-knell of the passenger car. Australians have a passion for sports-related vehicles and I suspect we'll see more moves in that area."
In their last year as locally-made cars, the Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry squeezed in to the top ten behind the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson SUVs.
Toyota remains the country's top-selling brand for the 15th year in a row, with sales almost double the second favourite Mazda, while Hyundai sales dipped but the brand maintained third spot.
Kia was the fastest growing of the mainstream brands, with sales up by 28 per cent - or 12,000 vehicles - in 2017.
Total sales of 1,189,116 were 1 per cent higher than last year's record year. It is the industry's fourth record in five years.
Mr Weber attributed the record to the stability of the Australian economy, low interest rates and fierce competition among the more than 50 brands available to buyers.
"Clearly Australian consumers recognise the value for money that is on offer in the new vehicle market and responded accordingly," he says.
He expects incremental growth again this year as manufacturers chase market share.
Eyebrows will be raised about some of the December sales figures, though.
Holden, which has had a bad year, registered growth of 58 per cent over last December, although there are serious doubts that those cars are in the hands of customers.
Thanks to a loophole in the FCAI's recording methods, car makers routinely bolster sales numbers by getting dealers to register more cars than they can sell. Those cars are then sold over the following months as dealer demonstrators.
TOP 10 BRANDS
TOP 10 MODELS 2017
Toyota Hi-Lux 47,093
Ford Ranger 42,728
Toyota Corolla, 37,353
Hyundai i30 28,780
Mazda CX-5 25,831
Hyundai Tucson 23,828
Holden Commodore 23,676
Toyota Camry 23,620
Mitsubishi Triton 23,604
TOP 10 MODELS DECEMBER
Toyota Hi-Lux 3949
Holden Astra 3533
Ford Ranger 3458
Holden Colorado 3222
Mitsubishi Triton 2645
Toyota Corolla 2641
Holden Commodore 2229
Mitsubishi ASX 2128
Mazda CX-5 2113