Vehicle sales in Australia have returned to where they were five years ago, and it's the premium market battling most for traction
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It’s no secret the Australian new vehicle market is struggling, after enduring 11 successive months of negative growth compared to the corresponding month in the preceding year.

With factors like a weak housing market pinned with much of the blame, it should be no surprise luxury car brands are battling more than the more popular brands at the cheaper end of the market.

We’ve been delving into VFACTS figures compiled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and based on data supplied by the car-makers themselves, and it’s interesting.

Sales from 21 ‘premium’ carmakers were down almost 8.0 per cent in 2018, in an overall new vehicle market down 3.0 per cent. In 2019 so far, this same cluster of 21 companies are tracking 15.8 per cent lower than they were over first two months of last year – almost twice the rate of the overall market decline.

In 2018 this group sold 113,997 vehicles, just under 10 per cent of the total market. In 2019 so far this group has accounted for 16,590 sales, or 9.8 per cent of the market.

And we’ll pre-empt you: cars like the Toyota LandCruiser and Mazda CX-9 are more expensive than many Mercedes-Benz products, so we know this list is skewed. Nothing is perfect…

In 2018, the four top-selling premium brands all fell away: Mercedes-Benz Cars (this means no commercial vehicles) dropped 13.1 per cent, BMW only fell 2.4 per cent, Audi dropped 11.8 per cent and Land Rover fell by 23.1 per cent.

Other brands that fell away in 2018 included Porsche (down 12.8 per cent), Mini (down 3.3 per cent), Infiniti (down 16.4 per cent), Maserati (down 13.2 per cent) and Bentley (down 5 per cent).

Now, the luxury market is highly sensitive to the arrival of new product, since wealthier buyers want the latest and greatest. But the consistency of these declines makes it statistically significant, surely.

It wasn’t all gloomy, since a newly SUV-rich Volvo exploded by 42 per cent to a new sales record. Lexus managed to about tread water, while smaller operations Jaguar and Alfa Romeo likewise leaned on their burgeoning SUV ranges to grow 8.0 per cent and 21 per cent respectively.

The trend has about continued in 2019, with data for January and February available to us.

Mercedes-Benz Cars has dropped 17.9 per cent, BMW by 5.2 per cent, Audi by 27.3 per cent and Land Rover by 41.7 per cent — in the process being overtaken by Lexus (up 8.3 per cent thanks to, you guessed it, the new UX crossover).

Volvo is again up by 32 per cent, as are Jaguar and Alfa Romeo (36 per cent and 10 per cent respectively), while Mini, Porsche (new Macan will help, as will new 911) and Maserati are all battling still.

To get more granular, 2018 saw the following declines across various premium segments:

Premium Light Cars (down 11.1 per cent to 3899 units), Premium Small Cars (down 15.9 per cent, 13,512), Premium Mid-Size Cars (down 21.8 per cent, 17,483), Premium Large Cars (down 23.8 per cent, 3417), Sports Cars between $80,000 - $200,000 (down 28.7 per cent, 4977), Sports Cars over $200k (down 2.5 per cent, 1685). Premium Large SUVs were down 16.4 per cent to 17,199 units.

It’s a similar picture in 2019 so far:

Premium Light Cars (down 13.3 per cent), Premium Small Cars (down 28.2 per cent), Premium Mid-Size Cars (down 5.3 per cent), Premium Upper Large Cars (down 59.7 per cent) Sports Cars between $80,000 - $200,000 (down 16.9 per cent), Sports Cars over $200k (down 26 per cent), Premium Mid-Sized SUVs (down 24.9 per cent), and Premium Large SUVs (down 24.7 per cent).

Update: Further consultation with industry has flagged other concerns, including issues around attaining European WLTP fuel consumption ratings (and subsequent production snags), the 'stinkbug' saga holding up cars in docks, changed lending regulations on the horizon, a looming general credit crunch, and diesel product order slowdowns.


Premium Brands 2019 YTD:

Mercedes-Benz Cars4649-17.9%
BMW3907-5.2%
Audi2465-27.3%
Lexus1444+8.3%
Land Rover1121-41.7%
Volvo Car1065+32.1%
Mini594-11.1%
Porsche496-50.8%
Jaguar385+36.0%
Alfa Romeo172+10.3%
Maserati71-54.2%
Infiniti69+13.1%
Ferrari48+11.6%
Bentley33+37.5%
Lamborghini21-8.7%
Aston Martin13-45.8%
McLaren13-18.8%
Lotus10+100.0%
Alpine6-
Morgan6+500.0%
Rolls-Royce2-
TOTAL16,590-15.8%

Premium Brands 2018 Total:

Mercedes-Benz Cars32,201-13.1%
BMW23,055-2.4%
Audi19,416-11.8%
Land Rover10,089-23.1%
Lexus8,819+0.2%
Volvo Car6,693+43.0%
Porsche3,909-12.8%
Mini3,590-3.3%
Jaguar2,679+7.9%
Alfa Romeo1,279+21.0%
Infiniti649-16.4%
Maserati642-13.2%
Ferrari241+14.8%
Bentley208-5.0%
Aston Martin167+16.0%
Lamborghini134+9.8%
McLaren88-24.1%
Lotus56-9.7%
Rolls-Royce40-11.1%
Alpine32-
Morgan10+25.0%
TOTAL113,997-7.7%