New vehicle sales have fallen moderately in 2014 after two record years in a row, but perhaps even more interesting is the slowly changing face of exactly where these cars are made.
Here are the basics. There have been just shy of 740,000 cars and trucks registered in Australia to date in 2014, made in about 30 countries across every continent except Antarctica (lazy penguins).
This total sales figure is down 2.5 per cent on 2013’s record, a result in part of dwindling consumer confidence, shrinking fleet demand and a glut of registered cars filling up space on dealer lots — dealer demos, in the industry parlance.
But tracking downwards at a faster rate than this overall industry figure is the sum total of vehicles imported from our three largest automotive trading partners: Japan (218,535, down 11.6 per cent), Thailand (148,306, down 4.5 per cent) and South Korea (89,222, down 3.1 per cent).
Above: the Argentinian-built Volkswagen Amarok
This comes as small surprise when you look at the sales of major brands that import from the first two of these markets en masse, at least. Honda (down 29.1 per cent), Mazda (down 4.5 per cent), Mitsubishi (down 11.6 per cent), Nissan (down 18.9 per cent), Suzuki (down 21.3 per cent) and Toyota (down 5.7 per cent).
Thailand’s number in particular has also taken a big hit by a 4.7 per cent drop in light commercial sales, many of which are made in the South East Asian nation, due to diminished demand from large fleets, notably in the flattening mining sector.
On the flip side, we have seen proportionately large increases in deliveries from ‘second-tier’ sources such as the US (35,706, up 61.0 per cent), England (22,550, up 10.6 per cent), India (14,024, up 17.5 per cent) and Spain (11,917, up 11.1 per cent).
UPDATE: Sitting in between these tiers is Germany, which has supplied 56,326 vehicles, up 16.2 per cent on the back of strong growth among premium brands.
Other sources sending more vehicles to Australia than last year are: South Africa (6738, up 9.8 per cent and set to grow with the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class), Slovak Republic (6288, up 75.2 per cent, including the Kia Pro_cee’d GT pictured above), Belgium (6017, up 5.7 per cent), Italy 4028 (up 61.3 per cent), Poland (3637, up 15.2 per cent) and Hungary 1193 (up more than 1000 per cent).
Above: the Mexican-built Fiat Freemont and Polish-made Fiat 500
Third-tier suppliers that have dropped are Czech Republic (10,957, down 9.2 per cent), Argentina (4947, down 2.3 per cent), France (4086, down 1.6 per cent), Mexico (4017, down 12.2 per cent) and China (2873, down 46 per cent).
Just if you’re interested, other supplier nations include Austria (918 deliveries), Indonesia (358), Malaysia (595), Portugal (368), Sweden (941) and Turkey (1849).
What these figures tell us is that 2014 has not only seen a drop in overall sales, but also a slow but steady diminution in the number of vehicles imported from key import partners. Why might this be?
There are a number of factors. First, the natural ebb and flow of vehicle launches bring cars from new sources and spell the end of vehicles from others.
Above: the Hungarian-sourced Suzuki S-Cross
The launch of the Hungarian-made Suzuki S-Cross late last year and the terrible years for Chinese-made cars from manufacturers Chery (down 33.3 per cent) and Great Wall (down 54.5 per cent) account for the performance of these respective countries, for instance.
The Fiat Chrysler Group’s huge boost since becoming a factory-backed Australian importer in 2012 (Alfa Romeo up 38.8 per cent), Fiat passenger (up 127.5 per cent) and Jeep (up 40 per cent) accounts for the leap in Italian and US vehicles.
Sometimes, a manufacturer’s Australian arm might choose to change the source of a given vehicle due to inter-company issues — Ford’s planned closure of its Belgian plant causing a delay in the launch of the next-generation Mondeo, for example — or currency flows.
We’ve seen a number of light cars, such as the Mazda 2 and Honda Jazz (EDIT), switch sourcing between Japan and Thailand (and its juicy free-trade deal, which was in place long before our recently inked one with Japan), for example.
Above: the forthcoming, Australian-made Ford Falcon FG X
There’s also the overarching reason for manufacturers broadening their supply bases, a move hastened by the devastating Thai floods and Japanese earthquake from 2011 that hit a number of brands with too many eggs in those baskets hard.
Naturally, many countries lobby intensely to lure car-makers to set up domestic factories, and in turn set up thousands of locals with steady employment.
Of course, Australia did this for years, though this current government took a harder posture around the time all three local makers pulled the pin.
It has, of course, been many years since Australia relied principally on locally made cars, but with the road to closure of Ford, Holden and Toyota now mapped out for 2016/17, the issue of vehicle imports is one to consider. Australian-made cars are down 7.5 per cent to 67,702 this year.
What point are we trying to make? None, really. But the fact that you can go and buy cars from almost 30 countries is interesting. As are the ebbs and flows of precisely where we get them.