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No new-vehicle market segment shed more sales over the first quarter of 2016 against the same period last year than Light Cars, home to the Mazda 2, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris.

In what constitutes a sharp decline, light car sales over the period of January 1 to March 31 dipped 13.9 per cent, from 29,399 units over the period last year to 25,316 units in 2016. This means the overall market share of light cars is now just 8.9 per cent. 12 months ago it was 10.6 per cent.

This differential of 4083 units outstrips any other segment, though percentage drop in sales of even smaller micro cars — led by the Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Micra — is even larger, at 31.3 per cent, reflecting a long-running trend in that corner of the new vehicle market.

2016 Hyundai Accent 1.4L

Keep in mind that this segment drop of 13.9 per cent comes in a market where overall sales are up 2.8 per cent for the year, and on record pace. Though one must not forget that passenger car sales are down 8 per cent in the face of the continuous SUV boom.

Industry VFACTS data breaks the light car segment up into two halves — ‘below $25,000’ and ‘above $25,000’. The former is doing the damage, with mainstream sales here down 14.8 per cent to 23,845, while the latter has delivered 4.8 per cent growth to 1471. Thus, more people are buying expensive designer baby cars, but eschewing the cheap ones.

There are 18 offerings in the sub-$25K segment, and only five of these have grown in sales this year.

Yaris v Rio 47b

These are the Hyundai Accent (up a massive 111.5 per cent to 3779, as Hyundai is discounting to make up for the death of the old i20), Honda Jazz (up 7 per cent to 2528), Kia Rio (up 27.9 per cent to 1942 thanks to factory discounts), Skoda Fabia (up 43 per cent to 213 thanks to the launch of a new-generation model) and the Volkswagen Polo (up 5.9 per cent to 2149).

Notable drops have come from the class-topping Mazda 2 (down 6.4 per cent to 3788, just ahead of the Accent), Toyota Yaris (down 18.3 per cent to 3177), Suzuki Swift (down 12.8 per cent to 2683), Holden Barina (down 16.6 per cent to 1466) and Ford Fiesta (down down 46.3 per cent to 791).

More niche cars that are also struggling are the Honda City (down 31.6 per cent to 527), Mitsubishi Mirage sedan (down 93.4 per cent to 31), Renault Clio (down 43.6 per cent to 390) and Toyota Prius C (down 23.4 per cent to 258). There’s also the small matter of the 3357 lost sales from the axed Hyundai i20, not quite covered by the Accent’s 1992 unit gain.

2015-mini-cooper-s-jcw-36

Meanwhile, at the above $25K end of the market, it’s the Mini hatch in front, up 2.5 per cent to 626. This places it ahead of the Audi A1, up 19.6 per cent to 519 thanks to regular campaign pricing, and the new Mini Clubman, categorised differently and responsible for 130 incremental sales.

Struggling is the Peugeot 208 (down 22.2 per cent to 182), Citroen DS3 (down 58.3 per cent to 10) and the just-axed Alfa Romeo MiTo (down 92.3 per cent to 4 sales).

The likely causes for all of this are manifold. Low fuel prices, strong discounts on larger cars (such as the $19,990 drive-away with free automatic deals on the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato, though we’d note the Small Car sales are miles down this year as well, suffering in the face of compact SUVs) and potentially strong used car demand.

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