Market leader Toyota has defied the odds by posting a sales increase in what has been described by industry insiders as “the toughest month in memory” – as the market experienced its biggest slowdown since the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago.
Confidential preliminary figures show Toyota increased sales in March by 1.6 per cent compared to the same month the prior year, while most other Top 10 brands dropped by between 30 and 40 per cent in the industry's 24th month in a row of decline.
Official new-car sales figures from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries due to be published on Friday are expected to show the weakest March result in more than two decades – mirroring similar downturns in North America and China, the world’s two biggest automotive markets.
While Toyota Australia would not confirm the preliminary figures obtained by CarAdvice, the confidential “exchange” data shows the market leader reported approximately 17,500 cars as sold in March, ahead of Mazda in second place and Mitsubishi in third.
In another major upset, South Korean car maker Kia overtook its sister company Hyundai for the first time in Australia to finish in fourth place for only the second time ever (the first occasion was in October 2019) and relegating Hyundai to fifth spot in March. See separate story here.
Holden had a massive month to finish in sixth place, with sales increasing by about 30 per cent to sell almost 5000 cars, as buyers rushed showrooms to take advantage of discounts of up to $17,500 on runout deals. See separate story here.
Nissan, Honda and Subaru rounded out the Top 10. While Nissan and Honda sales were down by 30 per cent and 27 per cent respectively, Subaru remained steady with an increase of about 0.2 per cent for the month of March.
In an interview with CarAdvice, the head of sales and marketing at Toyota Australia, Sean Hanley, said: “The full impact of the COVID-19 (crisis) has really been felt particularly over the past two weeks in March.
“We had in fact the strongest February order intake since 2008 that really put Toyota in a strong position going into March. The first part of the month we reported very strong sales and enquiry.”
However, Mr Hanley added: “Since March … there has been a significant impact on enquiry. We are continuing to deliver (new cars) to essential services like government, emergency workers, mining, construction, tradies, all of which we believe will continue to benefit the economy.
“Where we are seeing a significant downturn is in … the tourism and leisure industry. Like most companies in Australia, they are under incredible pressure, they are suffering hardship and in many cases cannot proceed with their stated orders.”
Mr Hanley said all Toyota dealers remain open for business and service centres were still completing Takata airbag replacements as well as routine servicing and major repairs.
Mr Hanley would not confirm the preliminary March 2020 sales figures, preferring instead to wait until the official data was released on Friday, however he did say: "We expect our (figures) will show we had growth compared to March last year."
New car sales in March 2020*
Toyota: 17,500, up 1.6 per cent
Mazda: 6800, down 29 per cent
Mitsubishi: 5700, down 43 per cent
Kia: 5600, up 6 per cent
Hyundai: 5400, down 29 per cent
Holden: 5000, up 30 per cent
Ford: 4800, down 21 per cent
Nissan: 3500, down 30 per cent
Honda: 3100, down 27 per cent
Subaru: 3000, up 0.2 per cent
Volkswagen: 2800, down 38 per cent
* Preliminary figures, rounded, and subject to change.