Over the past ten years, total vehicle sales in Australia have increased by roughly 35%. But sales of the once-most-popular cars, the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon, have halved.
This fall in sales has lowered local production to levels not seen since the mid-1950s. Imports now make up around 80% of total vehicle sales in Australia.
Does the fall in sales of these two large cars mean we’re seeing the end of the large passenger car – and the end of automotive manufacturing – in Australia?
Reports that Holden is considering moving its Commodore design work offshore after 2014 has done little to soothe fears for the future of the industry.
Holden says it has made no decision on the future of the design division, but the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia claims the move would cost 360 local jobs.
A new kind of family car
The Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research reports vehicle sales under various categories, including nine for passenger cars and six for light trucks. Passenger cars are generally classified by engine size, while light trucks, which include SUVs, depend on vehicle style or type.
Since 2005, annual sales of passenger cars have remained almost constant at around 600,000. Sales of light trucks have increased by almost 20% to 414,000.
In the passenger car sector, the shift away from large cars has been balanced by take-up of light and small cars. Small and light cars now make up 36% of total sales, while large cars make up less than 10%.
Sales of SUV and utility vehicles have increased by more than 20% since 2005. SUV sales are now almost equal to those of small cars. In 1996, large cars outsold SUVs four to one; now SUVs outsell large cars more than two to one.
Yes, there has been a shift away from large to smaller cars. But the largest single growth over recent years has been in sales of SUVs.
Since SUVs are not classified on the basis of their size it is difficult to directly compare this category of vehicles to passenger vehicles. But the continued growth suggests Australians now prefer SUVs to almost any other vehicle and sales might soon even eclipse those of small vehicles.
Still hanging on to the myth of car as freedom
It seems the long-held myth of the Australian family car as defined by the Commodore and Falcon (and the earlier Kingswood) no longer resonates with the Australian public.