New-car sales fell to their lowest in 23 years but the industry believes the market is starting to recover.
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New-car sales across Australia fell by 35.3 per cent in May 2020 – with 59,894 vehicles reported as sold versus 92,561 for the same month last year – marking the lowest May tally in 23 years, since 1997.

It was also the 26th month in a row in decline, the longest slowdown since the Global Financial Crisis.

However, the industry showed signs of recovery after the coronavirus crisis and subsequent lockdowns slammed the brakes on new-car sales in April which saw a 48.5 per cent decline, the biggest drop in the 30 years since records were kept.

Despite the adverse conditions and gloomy forecasts, buyers continued to gorge themselves on SUVs and utes – which now comfortably outsell traditional passenger cars – and most major brands posted sales gains compared to April.

SUVs and utes accounted for seven out of the Top 10 cars reported as sold in May.

Toyota, the sales leader for the past 17 years in a row, again accounted for one in four of all new vehicles reported as sold, although its market share slipped from 26.5 per cent in April to 24.2 per cent in May.

Toyota finished ahead of Mazda and Hyundai, the latter returning to the podium after being overtaken by its sister brand Kia for two months in a row and for the first time ever.

In another upset, Volkswagen ranked sixth outright in May – ahead of Kia in seventh – which is believed to be the German car maker's best monthly result ever.

The Toyota HiLux ute remains Australia’s top-selling vehicle with a comfortable margin ahead of the Ford Ranger – when both the 4x2 and 4x4 segments are combined, as is industry practice.

However, the Toyota HiLux 4x4 has regained the lead in the year-to-date tally after the Ford Ranger 4x4 led the first four months of 2020.

Sales to private buyers fell by 32.1 per cent compared to the same month last year, business fleets bought 34.8 per cent fewer cars, while government deliveries only dropped by 16.4 per cent as many states replaced or boosted their numbers of emergency vehicles.

Hardest hit were rental car sales (down 78.5 per cent), as tourism all but came to a standstill.

Reflecting that was the sharp decline in new-car sales in Tasmania (down 51. 7 per cent), where rental vehicles represent a large portion of the fleet.

Conversely, deliveries in the Australian Capital Territory were down by only 5.2 per cent as many vehicles were replaced due to insurance claims following hail storms and fires earlier this year.

Most other states were down by between 32 and 35 per cent in May 2020 versus the same month the prior year, however Victoria – the second biggest market for motor vehicle sales – fell by 41.2 per cent.

The chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, Tony Weber, said although the market was down in May “there were some positive signs”.

“We were expecting another tough month but the indications are that the market is moving in the right direction,” Mr Weber told CarAdvice.

“We saw an improvement in the last two weeks of April and that continued into May, and now we are hoping that momentum will improve in June.”

Mr Weber said showroom traffic and new-car sales enquires were picking up.

“We start June with momentum that wasn’t there six weeks ago,” said Mr Weber.

The Australian Automotive Dealers Association, which represents 3500 showrooms nationally, says the early signs are good but May “could have been better” if finance companies weren’t so risk averse during the crisis.

“We need to look at responsible lending laws,” said the CEO of the AADA, James Voortman.

“While we of course support responsible lending practices, some finance companies are really making it increasingly difficult for people who in normal circumstances have no problem getting access to vehicle finance.”

Mr Voortman was cautiously optimistic about a market recovery, but said “I’m not celebrating just yet”.

“We are moving in the right direction (but) we’ve just had two of the worst months in close to 30 years. The sales numbers could have been better if consumers were able to access finance,” said Mr Voortman.

As reported last month, a number of in-dealer finance managers have told CarAdvice that some finance companies were knocking back more applications than they were approving.

Top 15 car brands in May 2020

  1. Toyota: 14,466, down 23.1 per cent
  2. Mazda: 5661, down 34.0 per cent
  3. Hyundai: 4109, down 49.3 per cent
  4. Ford: 3894, down 32.7 per cent
  5. Mitsubishi: 3010, down 41.2 per cent
  6. Volkswagen: 2781, down 38.5 per cent
  7. Kia: 2760, down 50.1 per cent
  8. Nissan: 2216, down 44.2 per cent
  9. Subaru: 2023, down 49.7 per cent
  10. BMW: 2013, down 1.9 per cent
  11. Honda: 1952, down 47.2 per cent
  12. Mercedes: 1771, down 32.2 per cent
  13. Holden: 1689, down 61.5 per cent
  14. Isuzu: 1439, down 32.4 per cent
  15. Audi: 1126, down 4.3 per cent

Top 10 cars sold in May 2020

  1. Toyota HiLux: 3527, down 16.1 per cent
  2. Ford Ranger: 2663, down 32.9 per cent
  3. Toyota RAV4: 2345, down 19.6 per cent
  4. Toyota Corolla: 1626, down 34.1 per cent
  5. Mazda CX-5: 1479, down 29.6 per cent
  6. Toyota Prado: 1358, down 23.5 per cent
  7. Toyota LandCruiser: 1260, down 9.9 per cent
  8. Hyundai i30: 1191, 58.9 per cent
  9. Mazda3: 1052, down 55.4 per cent
  10. Hyundai Tucson: 1019, down 40.4 per cent