Once the most popular vehicle type, sales of small sedans and hatches fell nearly 20 per cent last year
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Sales of small hatchbacks and sedans fell at more than twice the overall market rate in 2019, as buyers continued their migration to higher-riding SUVs.

Industry VFACTS data summing up 2019 showed that while the overall market fell 7.8 per cent (to depths not plumbed since 2011), the Small Car segment fell by 18 per cent compared to the previous year.

In numerical terms, this meant a dip from 199,639 sales in 2018 to 163,701 last year, a reduction in volume of 35,938 cars. As such, the segment's market share fell from 17.3 per cent to 15.4 per cent.

For context, this market share figure was above 20 per cent as recently as 2017.

Broadly speaking, the Small Car segment is split into mainstream and premium sub-segments, and the lion's share of the decline came from the former (18.6 per cent).

The top-selling Toyota Corolla dipped 13.7 per cent to 30,468 units despite the new-generation hatch version (the bulk-seller) being on sale all year. Likewise the all-new Mazda 3 family fell 19.7 per cent to 24,939 units, though in fairness the company predicted as much.

Both brands took the approach of increasing the starting price of their small car staples while improving the standard feature lists. While this probably helped the bottom line, it didn't necessarily help boost volumes.

That idea is reinforced by the fact that two of the very few small car offerings that didn't go backwards are known for their value-for-money positioning. These are the Hyundai i30 (28,378, up 0.7 per cent) and Kia Cerato (21,757, up 16.8 per cent).

Other popular small cars to decline in popularity included the Volkswagen Golf (14,355, down 24.7 per cent), Honda Civic (10,531, down 21.8 per cent), Subaru Impreza (4518, down 51 per cent), recently-discontinued Holden Astra (4188, down 57.6 per cent), Ford Focus (3682, down 'only' 5 per cent), and retired Mitsubishi Lancer (2197, down 68.8 per cent).

Things were a smidgen less grim at the more premium end of the small car market, which was down 9.6 per cent overall.

The top-selling Mercedes-Benz A-Class actually grew its sales by 12.3 per cent to 4689, while the new B-Class (1272, up 50.7 per cent) also bucked the trend, but the Audi A3 (3362, down 21 per cent), BMW 1 Series (2269, down 10.4 per cent), and Mini Clubman (281, down 34.7 per cent) struggled. The ageing Lexus CT dropped 69.9 per cent to 183.

Tellingly, while small car sales went backwards, sales of Small SUVs such as the Mitsubishi ASX, Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Kona remained steady at just under 140,000 units, which in a down market meant improved market share (up from 12.1 per cent to 13.1 per cent).

Medium SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4 and Hyundai Tucson also increased their market share from 17.9 per cent to 19.1 per cent.

While correlation isn't always causation, this means the share growth in these SUV segments (combined 2.2 per cent) almost mirrors the decline in small cars (1.9 per cent).

Model 2019 sales 2018 sales
Toyota Corolla30,46835,320
Hyundai i3028,37828,188
Mazda 3 24,93931,065
Kia Cerato21,75718,620
Volkswagen Golf14,35519,076
Honda Civic10,53113,470
Subaru Impreza45189215
Holden Astra41889876
Ford Focus36823875
Mercedes-Benz A-Class46894175
Audi A333624257
BMW 1 Series22692532
Mercedes-Benz B-Class1272844
Nissan Leaf408-
Mini Clubman281430
Lexus CT200h183607