Australia hosts more than 50 companies selling new cars, SUVs and light commercials through official dealerships. Between them they offer about 350 separate models made in 24 countries.
Given the total annual sales are a tick over 1.1 million units once you strip out heavy trucks, that’s a relatively small pie chopped up into a lot of pieces. Yet there are still great cars offered in ‘equivalent’ markets overseas that aren’t made available in Australia.
Car brands have their reasons. Sometimes ideal products are made in distant nations with whom we have unfriendly trade deals. Some are deemed unsuitable for research-determined local tastes. Other times there are insufficient supply lines on a product to provide regular stock.
Generally we understand this. Carmakers do their homework, and largely have to answer to shareholders who don’t want to see red ink. But sometimes we see a product offered overseas that really ought to be offered here, damn it.
Caveats: I’m not going to include vehicles only produced in left-hand drive, since making a business case to re-tool your factory is a nightmare. I’m also not going to include super-niche products. Nor will I suggest product with a subpar safety rating.
But I will suggest this group of six. I look forward to seeing your additions in the comments, because this is by no means a complete list.
On a side note, you might recall I wrote a similar piece on this topic a few years ago. A couple of models mentioned can now be checked off that list, though I'm quite sure I had nothing to do with it...
BMW M340i xDrive Touring:
The latest iteration of BMW's 3 Series Touring is coming to Australia soon! So what am I on about?
Well, given the low volumes expected to sell, BMW has decided to offer the 190kW/400Nm 330i variant only at this stage. That's nice and all, but what enthusiasts really want to see is the new M340i xDrive (BMW lingo for on-demand all-wheel drive) version.
Why? Power in the M Performance model comes from a 3.0-litre turbocharged straight six developing 285kW of power and 500Nm of torque – 45kW and 50Nm up on the previous 340i.
Thanks to the extra grunt and added traction of xDrive, the M340i claims to dash to triple figures in just 4.4 seconds, not far off the current M3 (4.0 seconds).
The really cool thing about xDrive is its fully variable power distribution between the front and rear axles, and the fact that BMW claims it rarely loses its real-wheel bias, especially in Sport and Sport+ modes.
You also get a M Sport rear differential with fully-variable rear wheel locking. It stops torque from taking the path of least resistance to the rear-corner where it’s not needed (the wheel with inferior road contact), and diverting it to where it's needed instead.
There's 500L of luggage space with the rear seats in place and 1610L with them folded, and the boot lid is electric as standard. The rear bench folds 40/20/40, and the rear window opens separately to the tailgate, for when you just want to slip a few items in.
Given the M340i xDrive sedan is indeed confirmed for Australia priced at a neat $99,900, surely a wagon version could sneak here at some point?
Sales of baby SUVs are through the roof, owning nearly 13 per cent market share this year so far.
Yet Ford’s contender, the EcoSport, has failed to catch on. The Mazda CX-3 has sold in 30-times greater volume this year (300 units versus 9041 YTD), and even China’s little-known MG ZS has outsold it seven-to-one.
But look at this snazzy little thing called the Puma – a name not unfamiliar to Ford aficionados. It offers what I consider to be aggressive and characterful styling, inside is a 12-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you can have digital instruments, and all the requisite active safety.
In terms of powertrains Ford has confirmed the Puma will be available with a 1.0-litre EcoBoost three-cylinder petrol engine in 125PS (92kW) and 155PS (114kW) tunes with ‘hybrid assistance’. Plenty of oomph for the size.
Granted, the fact it’s made for Europe means it would be pricier than the EcoSport, but Ford has no trouble selling Rangers at prices that are higher than the competition, and its new-generation Escape promises to move upmarket too. It’s hard to see the Puma performing worse.
And yet, the line from Ford Australia: ““As an announcement for European markets, this news has no bearing on our Australian product offering”.
Our loss, and Ford’s.
MORE: Ford Puma coverage
Market demand for small wagons is lower than small SUVs, so Kia’s stance not to bring it here makes more sense. Moreover, the ProCeed is made in distant Europe (Slovakia) and therefore it would have to be sold at quite a premium in Australia, near $40,000. But it’s really quite cool…
The second-generation ProCeed is a significant departure from its (term used loosely) ‘predecessor’, the weirdly named Pro_Cee’d that was a sales flop in Australia since it lacked an automatic transmission. That car was a three-door hatchback/coupe, whereas this one is a low-roofed wagon billed by its maker as a Shooting Brake.
With three-door sales falling off a cliff, it made a nod to practicality, with the design you see in the pictures that speaks for itself. It’s a practical little thing, with a 594-litre boot and 40:20:40 folding back seats. That’s despite using bulkier rear multi-link suspension.
While built around the same suspension system as the Ceed, it’s more stiffly sprung, having been overseen by Hyundai N head engineer, and ex-BMW M Division chief, Albert Biermann. Fitting this, the GT version uses the familiar 1.6-litre turbo engine with 150kW/265Nm, matched with a seven-speed double-clutch auto.
Line from Kia Australia: “ProCeed GT would never be a volume model… and it’s no more performance-oriented than we expect the Cerato GT to be. It was borderline to start with because of the difference of getting them out of Europe. Supply lines were very long, it takes a long time, and for a single model…”
MORE: ProCeed coverage
Nissan Australia axed the old Micra a few years back and is yet to replace it. The new-generation model made in France and sold across Europe is a twin to Renault’s Clio, and sports a similarly chic design.
Given it now comes with an automatic transmission option, and also in funky ‘N-Sport’ guise, it better meets Australian criteria.
Measuring 3999mm long, 1743mm wide and 1455mm tall, the new Micra is 174mm longer, 77mm wider and has a 55mm lower roof than its predecessor.
It sports tech such as autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian protection and a surround camera system, plus traffic sign recognition, high beam assist and blind spot monitoring.
Inside, the Micra has a 7.0-inch colour infotainment system, equipped with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and access to downloadable apps. There’s also a six-speaker Bose Personal sound system featuring two speakers built into the driver’s headrest.
Given rival products such as the Clio, Skoda Fabia and Volkswagen Polo are sourced from Europe for Australia, and given Nissan’s paucity of new product locally, surely having a youth-focused entry model (even one priced above a Suzuki Swift) has merit?
Nissan Australia has made some suggestions the Micra is under consideration, but given it was revealed almost two years ago, it’s safe to say that ship is rapidly sailing over the horizon.
Toyota Prius Prime:
This writer has had some good debates with Toyota Australia’s executive management over this car’s absence.
The logic goes like this: the company’s series-hybrid car sales are absolutely booming. There’s a waiting list on petrol-electric RAV4s, the Camry Hybrid makes up 50 per cent of that car’s sales, and the Corolla Hybrid is opening new doors. Hybrid C-HR and Kluger models are coming, ditto a Corolla sedan version.
All of which renders to regular Prius irrelevant. It once boasted tech of the future, which has become tech of the now. However, the Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), meaning it can drive about 60km on pure electricity before needing help from the petrol generator.
While PHEVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander and Hyundai Ioniq aren’t exactly big sellers here, Toyota’s massive reach and 20 per cent overall market share mean it has the best chance of familiarising Australians with this kind of technology ‘bridge’ on the way to full EVs. Moreover, it would make the Prius great again.
While this writer credits Toyota Australia for selling 100,000 mild hybrids over 20 years, and reducing carbon emissions appreciably, I’m also drawn to a line from its local chief Sean Hanley in 2018.
“We can assure you, Toyota is not waiting for emissions laws to be enacted. We recognise all car makers must reduce the environmental impact of their vehicles... We have a responsibly to take a stand and we are doing that with our hybrid model offensive,” he said.
Wouldn’t a PHEV help with that too?
MORE: Toyota Prius coverage
Volvo may sell mostly SUVs today, and deservedly so. They’re outstandingly good. But this Swedish-Chinese company is synonymous with wagons, and the absence of this flagship from local shores sucks.
Ok, the S90 sedan was taken off the market because of absent demand (maybe being more sensible with pricing would have helped). And granted, the V90 Cross Country crossover is available still, and the smaller V60 Estate is imminent. Both good things, both.
However, ever since I drove a V90 in Spain three years ago it’s been unceasing love. This ain’t your Pop’s Volvo. This is a low, lean wagon with road presence to kill for. It also has a solid foundation, based on the same Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) as the seven-seater XC90, using the same chassis, engines and core technologies.
The front suspension comprises of double wishbones, and the rear suspension has a novel carbon-fibre transverse leaf spring, hydraulic shocks and stabiliser bar. It also gets a Haldex-clutch-toting AWD system and a range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines.
Plus it’s sumptuous inside like the XC90, with lashings of light wood, tan leather and a large portrait screen. Seats-down it offers a two-metre loading floor length and 1.1m between the arches. The boot area is full of nice little design touches, such as the hidden storage space in the floor covered by a carpeted lid with a hydraulic shock.
Imagine one of these for $10,000 more than a Skoda Superb 206 TSI? That’s a moderately popular car, and I see no reason why a properly positioned V90 couldn’t find fans.
MORE: V90 news and reviews
MORE: New car sales coverage
Enough from me, what do you think? What products do you want to see sold locally through official channels?