Australian cars don’t sell? Bollocks.

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It’s an oft-repeated line — Aussie cars just don’t sell any more, hence the need for the local brands to shut their local factories and become full importers, something each will have done by the end of 2017.

I’m well versed enough on the economic and market-specific headwinds that are said to necessitate the end of Australian car manufacturing. Labour costs, scale, segment fragmentation… the list goes on.

And even though our weakening dollar makes our currency flows less favourable to imports — ergo more conducive to the sale of domestic goods — the relaxation of trade imposts (free-trade deals and the like) still work their magic. 

So, that’s out of the way. I’m not so naive that I don’t ‘get’ the economic reasons for Holden, Ford and Toyota closing their plants and becoming sales, marketing and engineering divisions here instead.

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Indeed, Australians have bought almost as many German-made cars (59,744) as Australian-made* ones (61,359) this year.

What I don’t get, however — and what I rather resent — is the argument trotted out that Australians simply don’t buy locally made or developed product.

Look, it’s all relative. Market fragmentation means scale is such that locally made cars are a shadow of what they were.

The days in the late ’90s and early 2000s where we saw Holden Commodore monthly sales nudging 10,000 and Ford Falcon sales pushing 6000-7000 are clearly over and won’t come again.

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In fact, the market’s top-selling cars — usually the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3 — are lucky to halve that total, such is the nature of fragmentation.

But the relative demand for some Aussie cars is far less diminished. Raw volumes of cars such as the Commodore and Toyota Camry are down, but they’re still among the market’s top-sellers.

I write this little story in the shadow of the release of August’s car sales figures, called VFACTS and compiled by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

What did they show? They showed that, off the back of very strong retail campaigns from Holden, the Commodore sedan and wagon was the third most popular vehicle in the country, with 2144 sales.

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Add the Holden Ute to this (the Lion brand doesn’t call the Commodore Ute a Commodore anymore), and its 2616 sales for the month came within a whisker of knocking off the Mazda 3.

Not far off, with 2095, was the fleet-focused Toyota Camry, doing well on the back of its recent update and price cut (a decision made in some part to retain demand, and thereby keep production scale at the levels required to guarantee the future of the Altona plant to the end of 2017).

In fact, the Australian-made Camry’s haul had it in sixth spot, and only three units away from the fourth-placed Hyundai i30 in the pantheon.

Slightly tangential was the performance of the Ford Ranger in fifth position (2096). This ute may be made in Thailand, but its design and development was conducted in Australia, and led by Australians. That counts for something. 

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Naturally, this line of argument doesn’t extend to all Australian-made cars — something I’d be remiss not to point out for balance.

The Ford Falcon sedan and ute range managed only 729 units combined in August, up from 687 in August last year but still tiny in the grand scheme. 

The Ford Territory, meanwhile, bucked the upward trend across the SUV market by falling 1.6 per cent to 784 monthly units. The Holden Cruze also dropped, by 17.8 per cent to 1216. The days of the Cruze being a Small Car staple are over. The planned Holden Astra range is needed.

Finally, the Toyota Aurion — not the beneficiary of the major update the Camry got — dropped 35.7 per cent to 261.

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By falling into the red, these cars actually diminished total sales of Australian-made cars by 1.8 per cent in August, against market-wide growth of 2.9 per cent (imports up 3.3 per cent).

So yes, it’s far from roses, and I’m not arguing that the economics don’t in part dictate exactly the market transition we’re undergoing.

But the figures we have also show us that, if priced and marketed right, an Australian-made (or developed) cars are still among the most bought. Bar none. That’s something that needed to be said.

*For those not aware, the Holden Commodore and Cruze, Ford Falcon and Territory, and Toyota Camry and Aurion are the vehicles produced in Australia.

Read more:

  • Ford Australia to cease local production in October 2016
  • Holden confirms Australian manufacturing closure in 2017
  • Toyota announces Australian manufacturing closure in 2017 

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