Australia looks set to give its car sales record a shake following a 20 percent
month-on-month rise in June, writes Mike Duffy.

Buyers invaded showrooms and drove away 73,557 new cars and commercials –
12,239 more than the same month last year.

This boosted January-June registrations to 375,076 units, 21,585 vehicles or
6.1 percent higher than the same period last year, the second highest result
on record.

Analysts are cautious on the one hand and bullish on the other.

They point out that January-June last year saw a severe downturn in sales due
to a ‘buyer strike’ in the lead-up to cheaper vehicle under a goods
and services consumption tax.

On the upside, the Federal Government has brought forward full GST input credits
for business instead of 50 percent now and 50 percent after July 1, 2002.

This has prompted a significant number of fleet buyers to re-think vehicle
replacement strategies.

All car makers report they are at advanced stages of signing lucrative corporate
contracts, on hold for the past year.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries upgraded its market estimate for
the year by 20,000 units to 800,000 – 7,000 fewer than the record year
of 1998 and 12,900 more than last year’s second highest result.

FCAI executive director Peter Sturrock said: "The industry is confident
it can reach 800,000 this year with the assistance of sales generated by the
change in the GST input mechanism.

"That would put us just 7,000 units short of the record.

"There is scope for growth above our estimate, so I would not rule out
the market testing the record.

"But for now, we will maintain our market forecast at 800,000."

A Federal election is due before the end of the year which could cause buyers
to sit on the sidelines and cause a late-year downward blip.

Sturrock also pointed to the depreciated Aussie dollar and the need by importers
of Japanese vehicles to recover heavy currency losses.

But for now, car sales are confounding those who suggest Australia could be
due to run out of economic drive.

General Motors‘ Australian affiliate Holden continued to lead the national
car market in June, heading the field for the sixth month in a row.

The brand bounded further away from Toyota and Ford to claim 21 percent of
the car and truck market.

This put it on track to realise its declared ambition to secure one in four
sales nationally.

Holden is already ahead of that goal in South Australia, home of Mitsubishi
Motors and Holden’s manufacturing plants.

The car maker turned in impressive June sales taking its year-to-date tally
just short of 26 percent of the local market.

Nationally, Holden has recorded 79,073 sales so far this year – 13,347
vehicles ahead of Toyota and 27,835 units to the good of old rival Ford at the
half-way stage of 2001.

Commodore recorded its highest monthly sales for the year – 8,097 compared
with 5,273 Ford Falcons.

The Opel-designed Astra again ran out the clear winner in the crowded small
car segment – at 2,906 units, clear of the Toyota’s Corolla with 2,720
and looks a month away from becoming the class leader.

Mitsubishi Motors – battling to turn record losses into profit to secure
its survival as a car maker – had a reasonable month retailing 6,324 locally-built
and imported cars and trucks.

This included 2,280 Magna/Verada, but its six-month tally of 11,639 Aussie-built
cars leaves Mitsubishi a tough task to meet its target of 30,000 full-year sales
on the domestic market.

Toyota sold 3,081 Camry/Vienta cars for a year-to-date total of 12,724.

Holden’s executive director of sales and marketing, Ross McKenzie, said the
late-2001 arrival of the Monaro Coupe – a stylish two-door version of the
Commodore – and performance versions of the Astra and Barina would generate
even greater excitement in the brand.

Renault‘s return to the Australian marketplace got off to a respectable start
with 307 sales – although dealer demonstrators would have accounted for
a slice of the first-month total.

In the luxury segment, most marques had record months. Mercedes-Benz had its
best six months for passenger vehicles – outselling rival German marque
BMW in the process.

‘Standout’ models had mixed results.

VW‘s new Beetle sales slumped to 38, the Rover 75 attracted 111 buyers, and
the Chrysler PT Cruiser found its way onto 82 driveways.

The light truck market at 109,897 vehicles is running 5,295 units (5.2 percent)
ahead in year-to-date calculations.

The heavy truck segment is at 8,353 is 1,082 or 11.5 percent down, but this
could recover with the GST input credit maturing early.

The top 10 brands in June:

1 Holden 15,699
2 Toyota 14,351
3 Ford 10,807
4 Mitsubishi 6,324
5 Nissan 4,611
6 Mazda 4,118
7 Hyundai 2,668
8 Subaru 2,091
9 Honda 1,591
10 Mercedes Benz 1,453

Author Mike Duffy is motoring editor of The Advertiser and the Sunday Mail,
Adelaide, South Australia.