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by Tim Beissmann

The Australian automotive industry enjoyed its strongest month of the year in March, with sales up 13,000 units compared with February and more than 20,000 higher than a subdued January.

Official VFACTS data released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) shows that 93,984 passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles were sold in March 2011, down 0.8 percent (760 vehicles) compared with March 2010.

The Holden Commodore maintained its position on the top of the sales charts, narrowly holding off the Toyota HiLux.

It took the Ford Falcon’s best sales month of 2011 to hang on to the top 10, while the popularity of the Holden Cruze continued to grow, cementing its position in the top five.

Top 10 sales by model (Q1):

  1. Holden Commodore – 4170 (10,644)
  2. Toyota HiLux – 4028 (9411)
  3. Mazda3 – 3979 (11,159)
  4. Toyota Corolla – 3067 (9712)
  5. Holden Cruze – 2804 (7446)
  6. Nissan Navara – 2575 (6586)
  7. Hyundai i30 – 2376 (6705)
  8. Mitsubishi Triton – 1978 (4496)
  9. Mitsubishi Lancer – 1749 (4980)
  10. Ford Falcon – 1719 (4448)

With the first three months of the year down, the first quarter results tell an interesting story. Although it has never topped the charts for any particular month, the Mazda3 has been the most consistent seller this year and leads the Commodore by 515 units as Australia’s most popular car.

From a brand perspective, Toyota continues to dominate. Ford climbed back above Mazda into third position for March, and is now just 170 units short of the podium year-to-date.

Nissan was the bolter in the group however, selling 2196 more cars than in February to overtake Hyundai into the top five.

Top 10 sales by marque (Q1):

  1. Toyota – 18,466 (47,887)
  2. Holden – 10,816 (29,515)
  3. Mazda – 8039 (22,883)
  4. Ford – 8698 (22,713)
  5. Nissan – 7789 (18,258)
  6. Hyundai – 7126 (20,143)
  7. Mitsubishi – 5656 (15,311)
  8. Subaru – 3901 (10,731)
  9. Volkswagen – 3228 (8758)
  10. Honda – 2634 (7446)

Of the top 10 marques, sales of Ford (3.4 percent), Mazda (8.4 percent), Nissan (19.3 percent), Mitsubishi (4.7 percent), Subaru (5.0 percent) and Volkswagen (4.6 percent) increased in the first quarter of 2011 compared with the same period last year.

Toyota (-7.3 percent), Holden (-11.8 percent), Hyundai (-5.0 percent) and Honda (-27.4 percent) lost ground compared with Q1 2010.

Dualis has been the big winner for Nissan, with sales more than doubling compared with the start of last year. X-Trail and Navara 4×4 have also significantly outperformed 2010.

Mazda’s strong numbers are courtesy of the popularity of the Mazda2, Mazda3 and BT-50 models. All other vehicles in the range have lost volume so far this year.

The story is reversed at Ford, where the Falcon, Falcon Ute and Ranger 4×2 are the only models to lose ground in 2011. Sales of Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo, Escape and Ranger have all increased between 25.3 and 95.4 percent.

Falcon sales are 39.3 percent below the same time last year (4448 vs 7328), and it appears Ford may still have a fight on its hands to deliver 20,000 Falcons for 2011. It will have to average 1728 sales per month for the rest of the year to reach that mark. Last year, Ford sold 29,516 Falcons.

Toyota’s first quarter results have been mixed. Corolla, LandCruiser and RAV4 were all up marginally, while Aurion and Camry were down 20.2 and 21.7 percent respectively. Yaris has also lost 17 percent, while the Prius is screaming out for a price reduction with just 167 sold so far this year, down from 460 in Q1 2010.

The Cruze has been the shining light for Holden with 1028 extra sales year-to-date giving it a 16 percent sales increase. Commodore has dropped 6.3 percent and sales of the Ute are down 24.3 percent. Captiva sales slowed 31.2 percent in anticipation of the refreshed model, while the combination of the Barina and Barina Spark has not been able to match the performance of the Barina in Q1 2010, with 2889 total sales trailing last year’s 3884.

Small and light cars have made up 48.1 percent of the total Australian new vehicle market in the first quarter of 2011. Half of the vehicles in the top 20 for March were light or small cars.

March was also an enormous month for the pick-up/cab chassis segment, with HiLux, Navara and Triton all in the top 10 and Ranger creeping up into 13th overall.

A few new vehicles entered the data for the first time in March 2011. The following data counts the vehicles registered in March (including press vehicles and pre-orders):

  • Audi A7 Sportback – 48
  • Chery J1 – 53
  • Chery J11 – 166
  • Lexus CT 200h – 223
  • Saab 9-5 – 5
  • Toyota FJ Cruisers – 209