In the rush to find interesting figures and trends in Australia’s new vehicle sales figures each month, it is easy to overlook some of the market’s quieter achievers.
One company that springs to mind is Isuzu Ute Australia, which has been kicking some significant sales goals this year with its staple D-Max 4x4 ute range and its surprisingly successful MU-X off-road wagon derivative.
Not necessarily the most glamorous brand, the Japanese company better known for its light trucks has nevertheless bucked a few market trends as we pass the halfway point of 2014.
Most notably, while 4x4 ute sales have dropped 7.2 per cent overall this year as business fleets cut back on spending, Isuzu’s D-Max has achieved growth of 16.2 per cent with 4888 sales this year so far — beating out the Mazda BT-50 4x4 (4351).
Only the Ford Ranger (up 24 per cent to 10,345) and the D-Max’s development twin, Holden’s Colorado (up 22.3 per cent to 8015) have grown faster. The D-Max’s 7.3 per cent share of the 4x4 segment is pushing up towards Isuzu’s medium-term goal of netting 10 per cent share.
Indeed, this triumvirate of utes, along with Volkswagen’s Amarok (up 8.2 per cent to 3679) have steadily eroded the sales of staples such as the Toyota HiLux (down 10.7 per cent to 13,743), Mitsubishi Triton (down 14.7 per cent to 9447) and Nissan’s Navara (down 35 per cent to 7840).
Buyers, it seems, are responding to positive word-of-mouth regarding the D-Max’s no-nonsense character and reliability, reputation as a durable truck brand with low-stress engines and very sharp driveaway promotional deals, including those on at present.
Towards the end of last year the D-Max also scored an uprated 3.5-tonne towing capacity (equal with the class leaders) and a revised five-star ANCAP safety rating (up from four stars), opening the doors to more large-scale fleets such as those belonging to mining companies.
But perhaps the bigger surprise packet is the MU-X seven-seater SUV launched at the start of 2014. The rough-and-ready family hauler has outsold the closely related Holden Colorado 7 by three-to-one in 2014, with 2239 sales and 4.1 segment share year-to-date. This is well above projections.
More impressive were its figures for June, when Isuzu’s dealers delivered 639 units, more than the Hyundai Santa Fe (555) and Nissan Pathfinder (460). Interesting is the fact that vast majority of these have been the up-spec $53,500 LS-T 4x4 variants (though you’ll do better with driveaway deals) rather than the price-leading LS-M.
At this rate, the company will easily outstrip what seemed to be an ambitious target laid out at the end of 2013 to sell 3000 units of the MU-X this year. By 2017, its Japanese parent has previously said it expects 8000 sales, which may prove a rather more daunting challenge.
Speaking with CarAdvice this week, Dave Harding, Isuzu Ute’s marketing and PR assistant general manager said the success of the MU-X has not surprised the company internally.
“It wouldn’t have been introduced here if we didn't think there was a market,” said Harding.
“It hasn't been that easy, in the sense that our initial order was probably conservative — you never know how a model’s going to go. We always were going to give it a big big push and a heavy marketing presence [though].
“It’s the benefit of having a versatile vehicle, we're not the soft or the hardcore option, which gives us a great spread.
“The buyers we’ve seen so far are a mix of people coming down from a LandCruiser or across from a Prado and Pajero, and then those coming up from a RAV4 or Territory. There are both grey nomads [who use it as] as a tow vehicle, and lots of young families.”
In fact, with sales figures going along so strongly on the 4x4 D-Max and MU-X, the only negative for the brand is its (four-star ANCAP) 4x2 D-Max, which has declined by 6.4 per cent to 719 sales YTD in an overall market down 1.4 per cent.
“The key to [addressing] that will be five-star ANCAP,” said Harding, though there is no firm timeframe on when Isuzu may tweak the car and have it re-tested. Both the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 are five-star across their 4x2 and 4x4 ranges.