Australians are treating themselves to “getaway cars” in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, so they can holiday at home rather than travel overseas.
The federal government’s $150,000 instant asset tax write-off has also accelerated sales of certain work vehicles.
That’s the analysis by car industry experts who have spotted a surprising shift in buyer tastes, as social distancing and business lockdowns slammed the brakes on new-car sales to 30-year lows in April and May.
“Despite a very difficult couple of months, some cars have performed relatively well, such as four-wheel-drives and certain utes and vans,” said the CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealers Association (AADA), James Voortman.
“Anecdotally, our dealers are telling us that people are buying four-wheel-drives to do the great Aussie road trip rather than travelling abroad, while business buyers of utes and vans are taking advantage of the federal government’s tax incentive.”
Against the odds, Australians treated themselves to a range of heavy duty four-wheel-drives and US pick-ups – many of which cost in excess of $100,000.
Sales of big US pick-ups such as the Chevrolet Silverado (up 64 per cent in May versus the same month last year) and Ram 1500 (up 53 per cent) are so strong there aren’t enough super-sized vehicle transporters to truck them in sufficient numbers from their Melbourne conversion facility to dealers.
The distributors are now considering sending them by car-carrying ships to reach interstate destinations.
Sales of the Nissan Patrol increased for the past three months in a row; deliveries of the rival Toyota LandCruiser – Australia’s top-selling heavy duty 4WD – dipped by 10 per cent, but only because there wasn’t enough showroom stock. The factory has since ramped up production.
While mega utes from the US are popular with tradies and those who need a powerful tow vehicle, heavy duty four-wheel-drive wagons from Nissan and Toyota are popular among holidaymakers and “grey nomads” who embark on lengthy road trips across remote parts of the country.
It’s not only the top end of town cashing in when times are tough.
Van drivers have embraced the new Toyota Hiace, and environmentally-conscious buyers are queuing for the new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Budget-conscious buyers took a punt on some lesser known Chinese brands. Vehicles made in China posted a sales surge (up 36 per cent versus the same month last year) in a market that has been stuck in reverse for 26 months in a row – the longest slump since the Global Financial Crisis a decade ago.
While some of the cars listed below posted sales declines, we reckon they are still winners because they outperformed the massive market slowdown.
There were also some other winners during the coronavirus crisis, but these are the vehicles that most signalled a shift in buyer tastes.
10 cars that beat the coronavirus:
Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Category: US pick-up
Price range: $120,000 to $130,000
Why it’s popular: Sales were up 64 per cent in May. This is the newest and most advanced full-size US pick-up on sale in Australia. It’s also one of the dearest. Buyers love the bold styling and V8 grunt. No diesel option available.
Category: US pick-up
Price range: $80,000 to $120,000
Why it’s popular: Sales were up 53 per cent in May. It’s the cheapest full-size US pick-up on sale in Australia, even though most examples cost close to or in excess of $100,000. Buyers love the styling and the V8 grunt. Also has the option of a diesel.
Price range: $80,000 to $100,000
Why it’s popular: Sales are up 16 per cent so far this year, even though there is only a petrol V8 available in a market segment dominated by diesel. Petrol prices at 20-year lows help, plus it’s almost as efficient as a diesel at freeway speeds.
Price range: $85,000 to $140,000
Why it’s popular: Sales are only down 10 per cent in a market that slowed by 35 per cent. This is the king of off-road and likely the last V8 version before a new model is unveiled next year. Toyota could have sold more but ran out of showroom stock.
Category: City SUV
Price range: $35,000 to $55,000
Why it’s popular: Sales are up 43 per cent so far this year and the queue for the optional hybrid variant can stretch to 10 months. It’s a city SUV with a roomy cabin and cargo area. The hybrid variant has the fuel economy of a hatchback.
Category: City SUV
Price range: $25,000 to $30,000
Why it’s popular: Sales are down 2.3 per cent so far this year (versus a five-month slump in the overall market by 24 per cent) because Suzuki can’t build enough. It’s highly capable off-road, but city dwellers love its ability to squeeze into tight spots. A poor three-star safety rating hasn’t dented its appeal.
Category: Delivery van
Price range: From $40,000 to $60,000
Why it’s popular: Sales were up 69 per cent in May. First completely new Toyota Hiace in 15 years now has car-like safety, technology and comfort. It’s also roomier than before and, as market leader for most of the past decade, it has the strongest resale value.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Price range: From $50,000 to $65,000
Why it’s popular: Sales were up 29 per cent in May due to the arrival of an updated model. The space-ship appearance plus Mitsubishi’s seven-year warranty offer and sharp drive-away prices make this five-seater or seven-seater a popular choice among families.
Price range: From $35,000 to $45,000
Why it’s popular: Sales of this Chinese 4WD are up 67 per cent so far this year (albeit from a low base) with the arrival of a diesel option, plus the LDV D90 is cheaper than its rivals. The infotainment system has some electronic bugs but buyers don’t seem to mind.
Category: City hatchback
Price range: $16,500 to $19,000
Why it’s popular: Sales were up 93 per cent in May (from a low base).The familiar badge is now owned by one of China’s biggest car makers. It has sharp looks and a sharp price but does not have an ANCAP safety rating. An earlier version had a poor three-star score.