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Market Insight: Auto brands leave their mark

Check the Pulse: Nissan’s new Pulsar will be crucial in lifting its popularity among Australians intending to buy a car in the years ahead.

No surprises with Toyota topping buyers’ list but Nissan, Mitsubishi have work to do

1 Feb 2013

AUSTRALIANS aged over 14 who intend to buy a new vehicle in the next four years have shown an overwhelming desire to go with the market-leading Toyota brand, but not all car companies should be comfortable with the latest research results.

New data from Roy Morgan Research’s ‘single source’ surveys done in the final quarter of 2012 provide a significant counterbalance to last year’s top-10 new-vehicle sales results, in which Toyota, Holden and Mazda take podium positions, with Hyundai edging out Ford for fourth place and Nissan cemented in sixth, followed by Mitsubishi, a rapidly rising Volkswagen, Subaru and Honda.

While the top three brands are the clear favourites among potential private buyers – suggesting the status quo on the sales dais is likely to be maintained in the coming years – the relatively low position of Nissan and Mitsubishi is striking compared to its key rivals.

The Roy Morgan figures put only 63,000 Australians (2.8 per cent of those surveyed) as intending to buy a Nissan over the next four years, and an estimated 89,000 (4.0 per cent) opting for a Mitsubishi, compared with 98,000 for VW (4.4), 107,000 for Honda (4.8), 110,000 for Subaru (4.9), 136,000 for Hyundai (6.1) and 170,000 for Ford (7.6).

128 center imageFrom top: Nissan Pulsar sedan Mitsubishi Outlander SUV Mirage hatch.

Holden and Mazda are both above the 200K mark with an estimated 237,000 (10.7 per cent) and 203,000 (9.1) ‘intenders’ respectively, while Toyota dominates the chart with 381,000 (or 17.1 per cent) planning to invest in the brand.

Of course, Nissan, which is striving to become the number-one import brand in Australia, has just embarked on a massive sales and marketing campaign with the launch of its reborn Pulsar, and momentum will continue with a substantial new-model rollout that will revitalise its range and in turn should see sales – and brand perception – improve.

Currently undergoing a major organisational restructure, Mitsubishi also has ambitious plans to re-energise its brand image and improve sales, starting with the recently launched new Outlander and this month’s Mirage, although other fully redesigned key models, such as Lancer, are still more than a year away.

Nonetheless, the current low buying intention rankings for the two full-line Japanese brands will be carefully monitored by company management as they work on improving their standing in the marketplace – which in sales terms for Nissan was a strong 17.4 per cent rise last year to just shy of 80,000, while Mitsubishi fell 3.7 per cent in last year’s booming market to 58,868 new registrations.

More detailed rolling-quarter data from Roy Morgan shows that the ‘intent to buy’ a Nissan was at 3.5 per cent (73,000) five years ago compared to the 2.8 measured last quarter, and that it is the only brand among the top players not to pass six per cent over the period.

Mitsubishi, meanwhile, was at 4.6 per cent (96,000) five years ago, compared to 4.0 in the most recent survey.

In comparison, Hyundai was at just 2.0 per cent (41,000) five years ago, and VW at 3.0 per cent (63,000), and have clearly stolen thunder from a variety of brands in the marketplace as they’ve risen up the charts.

Significantly, Kia, which is becoming an increasingly regular sight on the monthly top-10 sales charts, is also figuring well among Australian customers in Roy Morgan’s research, with the Korean brand currently at 1.5 per cent, or 33,000 intenders – about twice the number of five years ago (0.8 per cent/15,000).

Suzuki, too, remains an aspirational brand, currently at 2.2 per cent (49,000), which places it just behind Nissan. Five years ago, the Japanese small-car specialist was at 1.2 per cent (24,000).

Among the luxury car-makers, the desire to purchase from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz is a tight affair – and closer than the figures illustrate, with BMW falling from 4.3 per cent in the first half of last year to 3.3 per cent (an estimated 73,000 intenders) at the end of last year, while Mercedes-Benz and Audi are neck-and-neck at 2.1 per cent (47,000).

In terms of actual new-vehicle registrations, VFACTS figures show BMW just edged out Mercedes to take the 2012 luxury car crown, with 18,413 passenger car and SUV sales compared to 18,174 for the three-pointed-star brand, which also sold more than 4000 commercial vehicles.

After substantial growth in recent years, Audi finished the year just ahead of 2011 with 14,535 sales.

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