Australian car-buying tastes are shifting even closer to the US, with sales of SUVs accounting for more than half of the market for the first time.
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For the first time in more than 100 years of Australian automotive history, one in every two new vehicles sold is an SUV.

Official sales figures for July 2020 released today by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries show SUVs – which includes soft-roaders, off-roaders, and ‘faux-wheel-drives’ – represented 50.4 per cent of the total mix of new vehicles sold.

Although SUV sales overtook those of regular passenger cars for the first time in 2017 – when they represented 39.2 per cent of vehicles sold versus 37.8 per cent for passenger cars – this is the first time SUVs have accounted for more than half of the entire market in a given month.

Compared to the SUV market share of 50.4 per cent in July 2020, passenger cars only accounted for 25 per cent of the mix. Utes and vans represented 20 per cent of sales. The remaining 4.6 per cent of vehicle sales were trucks and buses.

The market share for SUVs has been climbing for the past 20 years, however the growth has accelerated in the past 10 years – sales have almost doubled within the past decade – as buyers prefer the taller driving position and added practicality.

Indeed, the market reversal has taken just eight years. Passenger cars last accounted for more than half of all new vehicle sales in Australia in 2012 (51.7 per cent share versus 27.6 per cent for SUVs).

Another comparison: in July 2020, Australians bought 36,500 SUVs and 18,100 passenger cars.

Ten years ago, in July 2010, Australians bought 19,000 SUVs and 47,500 passenger cars.

Car makers have pivoted to meet the changing buyer tastes by introducing more types of soft-roaders, many of which have limited ground clearance and lack four-wheel-drive.

Marketing experts say families and fleets have embraced the SUV concept because of the added practicality and roominess.

Social analysts have previously said “mum and dad feel more adventurous turning up to weekend sports with the kids if they’re driving an SUV, rather than turning up in a people mover or station wagon.”

While the coronavirus crisis has sparked an increase in sales of heavy duty models such as the Toyota LandCruiser, Toyota Prado, Mitsubishi Pajero and Nissan Patrol – as buyers plan to holiday at home – many SUVs are simply an adaptation of a high-riding hatchback.

Two decades ago there was one SUV category, now there are four ranging from city, small, medium and large.

The car industry has welcomed the shift to SUVs because buyers are prepared to pay a premium for a high-riding version of a similar or otherwise identical car.

For example, the Mitsubishi ASX SUV costs from $26,000 drive-away. The Mitsubishi Lancer on which it was based cost from $20,000 drive-away.

A Subaru Impreza hatch costs from $24,000 plus on-road costs, whereas the Subaru XV (which has an identical body shape and equipment, but with a bolder appearance add-ons) costs from about $30,000 plus on-road costs.

While SUV sales eclipse the halfway mark in terms of market share in July 2020, it could be another 18 months before the result translates to an annual tally.

In the first seven months of 2020, SUV sales accounted for 48.4 per cent market share, versus 25.5 per cent for passenger cars.

However, unless there is a sudden shift in Australian car-buying tastes, SUVs are on track to account for more than half of all new vehicles in the annual sales race by the end of 2021.

The rise and rise of SUVs (percentage of total vehicle sales in Australia):
July 2020: 50.4 per cent
2019: 45.5 per cent
2018: 43.0 per cent
2017: 39.2 per cent
2016: 37.4 per cent
2015: 35.4 per cent
2014: 31.7 per cent
2013: 29.4 per cent
2012: 27.6 per cent
2011: 24.2 per cent
2010: 22.7 per cent

The decline passenger car sales (percentage of total vehicle sales in Australia):
July 2020: 25 per cent
2019: 29.7 per cent
2018: 32.8 per cent
2017: 37.8 per cent
2016: 41.3 per cent
2015: 44.6 per cent
2014: 47.7 per cent
2013: 49.9 per cent
2012: 51.7 per cent
2011: 55.5 per cent
2010: 57.2 per cent

Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.