Revealed: The cars Australians buy with their own money
HIGH-riding utes and SUVs get plenty of attention but the most popular new car for Australian mums and dads is a hatchback.
Internal motoring industry figures reveal the Mazda3 is the top choice for private buyers, followed closely by the Japanese brand's CX-5 crossover.
Yes, dual-cabs are a big deal. Toyota's HiLux normally rides high on the sales charts, having been beaten only twice in overall monthly tallies in the past two years.
Subtract corporate fleets, government vehicles and rental cars and the Mazda3 is top-of-the-pops, representing the car of choice for everyday motorists spending their own money.
This shouldn't come as a surprise, as Mazda follows a different road to many of its rivals by pursuing lucrative private buyers at the expense of ultimate sales. Subaru and Honda take a similar approach, avoiding cutthroat discounting while protecting resale values.
Redbook.com.au general manager Ross Booth says brands that flood the used market with fleet vehicles often have inferior resale values.
"If a vehicle has strong private sale demand as a new vehicle, that demand and therefore a stronger price tends to carry over in the used market," he says.
Some models bring a balance of private and fleet appeal - Toyota's Corolla and RAV4 have a near-even split between private and fleet use. Others, such as Honda's CR-V and Subaru's XV, count on three-quarters of sales from private buyers.
But there is more to the information than meets the eye.
Hyundai claims almost 70 per cent of i30 owners are private customers, while industry figures put the model's share closer to half that at 38 per cent.
The discrepancy is likely due to how "private buyer" figures are calculated - some will be cars with no commercial links, while others will be family runabouts with ties to small business.
The Ford Ranger, having finished second overall to the HiLux last year, drops well down the private sales order, slipping behind the likes of Hyundai's Tucson and the Subaru XV to sit just inside the top 20 for private buyers.
That may not be an accurate reflection of the vehicle's popularity, as many sole traders and small businesses take advantage of tax breaks for commercial vehicles and register the family Ranger as a company asset.
Nissan's Navara and the Holden Colorado are well down the order for similar reasons.
Staff at the once-dominant Aussie brand will be worried to see no Holden models in the top 25 for private sales. Subaru's comparatively tiny local operation can claim three: the XV, Forester and Outback.
Here are the most popular cars among private buyers in Australia.
The car that ended the run of Holden's Commodore as Australia's most popular model is still selling strongly ahead of a new model's arrival in dealerships this month. The small hatch's sales success is due to Mazda's strategy of targeting private buyers with money in their pockets. The 2019 model goes even further with tech such as active cruise control, satnav and a head-up display fitted as standard to every grade - there are no $20K drive-away specials.
2. MAZDA CX-5
Australia's best-selling SUV resonates with family buyers. The CX-5 is safe, practical,
polished to drive and reasonably stylish. Mazda believes in giving buyers the power of choice, with five trim lines, four engine options, manual or automatic transmissions and front or all-wheel-drive. No-cost metallic paint and a five-year warranty help keep buyers on side.
3. TOYOTA COROLLA
Striking a balance between private and company buyers, the Corolla is a car for everyone. The evergreen Corolla finished ahead of the Mazda3 in overall sales thanks to widespread fleet and rental deals. It was buoyed by a new model last year - taking a cue from key rivals, it brought a more premium approach.
4. TOYOTA HILUX
The same is true for the HiLux. A staple of government, rural and mining fleets around the country, the outright bestseller rose through the private ranks with the help of premium grades such as the Rogue and Rugged-X with tough looks and off-road parts often sought by buyers of pick-ups. The five-year warranty introduced in January should make the HiLux hard to overhaul in 2019.
5. MITSUBISHI TRITON
Long a favourite among people spending their own money, the Triton has been helped by run-out deals in the latter half of last year (and the arrival of a new model in time for summer). It gives buyers plenty of bang for far fewer bucks than an equivalent HiLux. On balance, it's our pick of the current crop of dual-cabs.
6. MAZDA CX-3
Baby SUVs are all about private buyers. They are a popular choice with cashed-up retirees, not for their funky looks but because they are higher off the ground and easier to get in and out of than a conventional hatch. More expensive and - let's be honest - not a whole lot more capable than the Mazda2 hatch, the CX-3 nevertheless has much of what people want from a compact crossover.
7. HONDA CR-V
We were not surprised to see Honda's medium SUV climb from 18th in overall sales to make the top 10 - it's a spacious and eminently practical machine with plenty going for it. Rock-solid reliability and a comfortable ride meet seven-seat versatility and strong safety credentials in an affordable package.
8. TOYOTA RAV4
You could argue compact SUVs were born when the original RAV4 launched in 1994, becoming a household name in Australia and beyond. As with the Corolla and Prado stablemates, RAV4 sales are almost split down the middle between private and corporate buyers, in stark contrast with the likes of Honda and Mazda counting three-quarters of their sales from everyday families. The new model, sharp-looking and imminent, should take a larger slice of the private sales pie.
9. VW GOLF
Impressively polished in the showroom and on the road, the Golf remains a small car benchmark. Customers can choose pseudo-prestige versions or performers such as the Golf GTI and R, which have immense pull for enthusiasts. The brand finished strongly in 2018 with a five-year warranty, which became permanent this year.
10. HYUNDAI I30
Taking a page from VW's book, Hyundai took the i30 upstream last year in search of more profitable private customers. The turbo i30 N hot hatch aims for the Golf GTI and the switch from a well-sorted but visually unremarkable i30 SR to a boy-racer i30 N-Line should put more cars on driveways.
OVERALL VEHICLE SALES 2018
1 Toyota HiLux 51,705
2 Ford Ranger 42,144
3 Toyota Corolla 35,320
4 Mazda3 31,065
5 Hyundai i30 28,188
6 Mazda CX-5 26,173
7 Mitsubishi Triton 24,896
8 Toyota RAV4 22,165
9 Nissan X-Trail 21,192
10 Hyundai Tucson 19,261
TOP 10 PRIVATE SALES 2018
2 Mazda CX-5
3 Toyota Corolla
4 Toyota HiLux
5 Mitsubishi Triton
6 Mazda CX-3
7 Honda CR-V
8 Toyota RAV4
9 VW Golf
10 Hyundai i30