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The Mazda3 is officially Australia’s favourite car, ending the locally made Holden Commodore’s run of 15 years at the top.

The small Japanese car with the big grin fought a tit-for-tat battle with the big Aussie family favourite throughout the year, and eventually claimed the win by just 812 vehicles (41,429 vs 40,617).

The Mazda’s unprecedented 2011 performance, in which its sales increased by 6.2 per cent compared with 2010, sees it dislodge the Commodore from the number one spot for the first time since 1996, when the Commodore surged past traditional Australian rival, the Ford Falcon.

Official VFACTS data released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) shows that 1,008,437 passenger cars, SUVs and commercial vehicles were sold in Australia in 2011, down 2.6 per cent (27,137 vehicles) compared with 2010.

The year was just the fourth in history that more than one million vehicles were sold across the country.

Despite a year disrupted by the supply issues stemming from natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, Toyota was by the far most popular brand in Australia. Toyota has now been the top-selling brand in Australia for the past nine years, and for 15 of the past 21.

Holden was a distant second while Australia’s only other local manufacturer Ford held off strong challenges from Mazda and Hyundai.

Top 20 sales by marque:

1. Toyota – 181,624
2. Holden – 126,095
3. Ford – 91,243
4. Mazda – 88,333
5. Hyundai – 87,008
6. Nissan – 67,926
7. Mitsubishi – 61,108
8. Volkswagen – 44,740
9. Subaru – 34,011
10. Honda – 30,107
11. Kia – 25,128
12. Suzuki – 23,778
13. Mercedes-Benz – 21,180
14. BMW – 17,508
15. Audi – 14,511
16. Great Wall – 8665
17. Jeep – 8648
18. Isuzu Ute – 6397
19. Lexus – 6347
20. Land Rover – 5832

Volkswagen was among the prime movers in 2011, overtaking Subaru and Honda into eighth place overall. Honda plummeted more than 25 per cent, however, giving Kia and Suzuki a sniff of the top 10.

Mercedes-Benz remains the dominant luxury-car brand in the country, although of the big three, Audi was the only one to enjoy increased sales in 2011.

Top 20 sales by model:

1. Mazda3 – 41,429
2. Holden Commodore – 40,617
3. Toyota HiLux – 36,124
4. Toyota Corolla – 36,087
5. Holden Cruze – 33,784
6. Hyundai i30 – 28,869
7. Nissan Navara – 21,675
8. Toyota Camry – 19,169
9. Ford Falcon – 18,741
10. Mitsubishi Lancer – 18,717
11. Volkswagen Golf – 18,383
12. Mazda2 – 17,591
13. Mitsubishi Triton – 17,188
14. Toyota Yaris – 16,214
15. Ford Ranger – 15,586
16. Ford Territory – 13,866
17. Subaru Forester – 13,142
18. Toyota RAV4 – 13,125
19. Ford Focus – 12,863
20. Suzuki Swift – 12,388

The Mazda2 (17,591) held off a late challenge from the recently updated Toyota Yaris (16,214) to claim top spot in the light car segment. The Ford Fiesta (12,286), narrowly missing out on the overall top 20, and Suzuki Swift (12,388) ran a tight race for third.

Small cars dominated the pointy end of the sales charts in 2011, accounting for five of the top 10 models overall. The Mazda3’s top ranking has somewhat overshadowed the resurgence of the Corolla. A win in December made the Corolla the top-selling vehicle in the country for the past four months, and that momentum potentially makes it the early favourite to steal the Mazda3’s crown in 2012.

A lacklustre November couldn’t come close to knocking the Toyota Camry (19,169) off top spot in the medium segment, although its share of the sub-$60,000 category fell almost seven per cent in a difficult year for Australia’s locally made mid-sized sedan. The Ford Mondeo (6626) enjoyed solid growth in a declining segment, while the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (6428) and Mazda6 (5794) followed closely behind, despite slipping compared with 2010.

The Commodore’s 40,617 sales gave it a 55.4 per cent share of the large-car segment, well clear of the Falcon, which limped to a 25.6 per cent share in 2011. Both were well down on 2010 – the Falcon by 36.5 per cent, the Commodore 11.6 per cent – as consumers continue to downsize from traditional large family cars. The Toyota Aurion also dropped more than 24 per cent last year, recording just 8915 sales.

The Kia Carnival (3595) increased its dominance of the people mover segment over the Hyundai iMax (1922) and the Honda Odyssey (1178).

A strong end to the year put the Subaru Forester (13,142) on top of the compact SUV segment, just edging out the Toyota RAV4 (13,125). The Nissan Dualis (9214) and Hyundai ix35 (11,487) both enjoyed healthy sales growth this year, up 39.8 per cent and 59.5 per cent, respectively.

The revitalised Ford Territory (13,866) won plenty of fans in 2011, and finished the year as the top-selling SUV in the country. The Toyota Kluger (11.692) and Prado (10,849) duo rounded out the podium in the medium SUV segment, while the Toyota LandCruiser (9119) maintained its 3:1 advantage over the Nissan Patrol in the large SUV segment.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee (3374) – although arguably out of its league in the luxury SUV segment – won the class ahead of the Audi Q5 (2801) and the BMW X5 (2770).

The Hyundai iLoad (6610) overtook the Toyota HiAce (6034) in the van segment to achieve top spot for the first time.

The HiLux was unbeatable in either ute segment, however. The 4×2’s 12,399 sales put it clear of the Commodore-based Holden Utility (9489) and the Ford Falcon Ute (6814), while the HiLux 4×4’s 23.725 sales gave it the edge over the Nissan Navara (20,162), the Mitsubishi Triton (11,297), the Ford Ranger (11,286), and the Holden Colorado (10,618).