New Zealand is better than Australia for many reasons. It's not just pavlova (they really did invent it).
The skiing is better there. So are the roads. So is the adventure tourism, if jumping off stuff is your idea of a fun afternoon. Then there are the sheep. The mountains. The scenery. And the cars.
Yes, really. The Kiwi crowd often get an early bite of the cherry when it comes to new models in the market, where Australia has to wait up to 18 months for those almost identical cars to be sold here.
We recently teed up a drive of the Citroen C4 Cactus in New Zealand. That car has been in the NZ market for the best part of a year already, and it won’t launch here until early 2016. Why was it on sale there first? There are a few reasons...
Despite the fact the New Zealand car market is about 90,000 units per year for passenger-focused vehicles less than 3500kg – or about eight per cent of what happens in Australia every year, or, looking at it another way, less than what is sold here in a regular month – the rules about what can be sold there are less stringent.
Add to that the fact that about half of all first-registered vehicles sold in a year in NZ are used (grey) imports, and the market is not only complex, but a bit crowded.
Yep, for 90,000 vehicle sales (including trucks and four-wheeler bikes) there are about sixty brands. And people say the Aussie new car market is crowded with its 65+ brands and 1.1 million vehicle sales!
So back to our C4 Cactus - Citroen, for example, could sell the car there earlier than it could in Australia because the company had to specifically design new child-seat anchor restraints with top-tether hooks (that's the Australian Design Rule designation - there is no NZDR).
It just so happens that Citroen’s homeground engineers also had to make up a new 60:40 split fold rear seat in the process.
That didn’t need to happen in NZ, where the standard ISOFIX points without top-tether latches are deemed safe enough. The newly added split-fold system was just a happy bonus.
But there are other cars in the Citroen garage that remain available in NZ and aren’t sold here. They include the C3 hatchback – which was pulled from sale here until a more up-to-date drivetrain arrives, as the old version – and that one sold in NZ – had an uninspiring 1.6-litre four-cylinder with a four-speed auto. A new three-cylinder turbo engine with a six-speed auto is expected to be sold here at some point.
Citroen also has the C4 Aircross still on sale in NZ – that Mitsubishi ASX-based model was axed here earlier this year as part of a range rethink. It sold poorly here, but was one of the best looking small SUVs on the market.
But it’s not only Citroen that sells some odd models in NZ that don't make it to Australia.
Ford, for instance, has a couple of variants on offer in Aotearoa that aren’t sold here… and I think they should be.
First is the Ford Tourneo Custom, an eight-seat passenger van based on the impressive Ford Transit Custom.
This highly practical people-mover would be a hit in Australia, particularly if priced right. It could compete with the Volkswagen Transporter-based Caravelle, offering a budget-conscious bus for breeders.
There’s also a Ford Focus wagon that we don’t get here, presumably because it would eat in to the sales of the Kuga SUV. It’s a shame – small wagons are great.
A Ford insider told me that the fact that imported used vehicles make up such a big percentage of sales in NZ means that offering a broader fleet with lower sales targets is justifiable. And, as I understand it, there is guaranteed fleet business for vehicles like the Focus wagon and Tourneo van. That's not the case in Australia.
Another small wagon sold in NZ but not Oz is the Toyota Corolla wagon (above). It’s powered by a miserly 1.5-litre four-cylinder, but perhaps Toyota Australia made the decision not to bring that car in based on looks alone. It is, in my humble opinion, a fugly thing.
Toyota also has a mid-large wagon offering over the ditch that we don’t get, the Avensis. It complements the Camry/Aurion buddies, but with a big boot. There’s probably a similar argument for not bringing that car here, being that RAV4 is the fourth most popular Toyota model in Australia and essentially does the same thing for probably less money (the Avensis is European-made, adding cost and complexity, where the Japanese-built RAV4 is a simpler equation).
There are other models that would undoubtedly do nothing in the local market.
The Suzuki Farm Worker, a specialist cab-chassis version of the previous-generation Suzuki Sierra, may be cheap (from NZ$14,990) but it has no airbags and would presumably have very limited appeal.
The Kia K2500 is another cab-chassis model that would lack much desirability in the Aussie market, given that it’s a very old design.
But it’s worth noting that the Kia Picanto – the impressive little city hatchback that Tegan drove recently in the UK – is already selling in NZ, and has been for some time. It’ll come here early in 2016.
Another model that was on sale in NZ before Australia was the Volvo V60 Cross Country, a higher-riding version of the V60 wagon with that lovely black plastic cladding that buyers seemingly go nuts for. That car is now on sale in Australia.
Then there are some models that just aren’t ever going to be sold here, no matter how much we want them.
They include the Skoda Rapid sedan (we get the hatchback model instead), and the Volkswagen CrossPolo (which is a shame, because a smaller SUV than the Tiguan would presumably sell its proverbials off).
Others aren’t so clear: the Ssangyong Tivoli small SUV has been nominated for a World Car of the Year gong, but it may not be good enough to be sold here. It really should be, if Ssangyong wants to lift its game locally.
So, you can see that even though the Australian car market is regarded as one of the most competitive and crowded on Earth, we miss out on a few models that could do well here.
Tell us what you think – are there any models that you’d like to see on sale here that the Kiwi contingent get?