The New Zealand car market might be 15.6 percent down on March 2000, but some makers are doing better than others, writes Dave Moore.

General Motors' Holden, which last year enjoyed its best sales since 1987, carried that momentum into the first quarter and reinforced the market leadership it established at the beginning of this year.

Compared with March 2000, overall New Zealand car sales were down 15.8 percent from 4,954 to 4,167. In contrast, Holden volume was up 27.4 percent while its market share rose 7.1 percent to 20.8. percent.

The GM subsidiary is well ahead of Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Honda and Mitsubishi and strong acceptance of the Australian designed and built VT Commodore is seen as the main reason for Holden's success.

The Holden Commodore

The company secured additional contracts for more than 400 police Commodore models during March and its healthy performance should continue as those vehicles are registered in the coming months.

Fifth-placed Honda showed substantial gains thanks to a burgeoning following for the new Civic which, with firm but high-value pricing, helped the Japanese company to 889 car sales and a strong 6.7 per cent market share in March.

That was the strongest showing from the brand since the mid-nineties when it had a more aggressive fleet sales programme and an Accord model that dominated its two-litre segment.

Honda's CR-V SUV has sold well in its five years on sale (New Zealand was the first export market), and demand still outstrips supply though the imminent debut of an all-new, 2.4 litre model, at October's Tokyo motor show, is likely to soften demand for the current version by year's end.

According to Land Transport Safety Authority figures for March, Holden posted its best passenger car sales since October 2000 - the resulting 20.8 percent market share was also the company's best for at least 16 years.

Holden's long-time Kiwi favourite, the Commodore, accounted for one in seven new car sales - emphatically outdistancing its nearest rival and stretching its unbroken run of market leadership to eight months.

Ford (1,689), Toyota (1,687) and Nissan car sales figures for the first quarter are likely to become more clearly defined and separated in the next month following the arrival of Ford's new European-built Mondeo which will be priced about the same as the smaller, less refined, outgoing model.


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Meanwhile, strong take-up of the new Escape SUV launched in March is expected to help the brand claw back some market share from its current 12.7 percent while pending decisions about a replacement for the Korean (Kia)-supplied Festiva small car should also have a bearing on Ford sales later in the year.

Nissan's strong showing may well have come at the expense of Australian-made Mitsubishi Diamante. Nissan's Japanese-built Maxima rival has done well with private, fleet and company user-chooser buyers since its latest redesign last year.

However, the absence of a five door hatchback version of the Japanese-sourced Pulsar/Sentra sedan makes this Nissan range less competitive against the Civic, Toyota Corolla, Ford Laser and Mazda 323 competitors. Adding a hatch to the line-up would be a good way for Nissan to reinforce its sales curve for the rest of the year.

Toyota, the market leader for many years, managed a weak Q1 performance to end up third year to date for cars and second for combined car and light commercial sales. After two decades at the top of the car and commercial sales race, Toyota's fall might be attributable to an aging but still worthy Corolla range but an all-new model is on the way.

The Corolla has lost out as New Zealand's favourite car over the last two years to the 'big Aussies' - the AU-series Ford Falcon and the VR- and VT-series Holden Commodores - and it's a loss which appears to have coincided with the closure of Toyota's local assembly operation in the coastal resort town of Thames in the North Island.

Mitsubishi's weak sales - just 279 cars in March and 790 year to date for sixth position in each case - can be attributed to uncertainty during the early part of the year over the brand's manufacturing future in Australia and a lacklustre small and medium car line-up.


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