General Motors‘ affiliate Holden has followed the announcement of near-record profits of $A237 million ($US123 million) for 1999 with its highest February sales for 26 years, writes Mike Duffy.

After a last-ditch loss to Toyota in the race for market leadership in the final month of the year, Holden has hit back strongly to establish a convincing early lead over its main rival.


But third-placed Ford – a three-times market leader between 1995 and 1997 – has been forced to respond to a steady slump in Falcon sales by cutting 300 employees from its 5000-strong workforce at its two factories in Victoria state.


Mitsubishi Motors, battling to transform record losses into a profit – a pre-requisite for survival – turned in a highly promising performance with the Magna/Verada outselling Toyota’s Camry/Vienta.


Holden defied a 6.2 percent drop in sales of cars and commercial vehicles nationally over the same month last year to post a 5.5 percent increase.


Sales of Australia’s best-selling car, the Holden Commodore, grew 16.6 percent over last February with 6569 registrations compared with Ford Falcon’s tally of 4894.


This gave GM’s breadwinner year-to-date sales of 11,428 units – a handy 3523 vehicles ahead of the Falcon on 7905.


Holden now holds 20.1 percent of the market with 22,074 sales after the first two months of the year, 3879 vehicles more than Toyota which has sold 18,195 cars and commercials for 16.5 percent of the market.


Ford is a distant third with 15,759 sales for 14.3 percent.


Mitsubishi holds fourth place with 9977 registrations or 9.1 percent market share.


Nissan had one of its most successful months for some time to maintain its position as best performing importer.


Mercedes-Benz was the 10th best selling marque for the second consecutive month, replacing the financially troubled Daewoo whose future is in limbo while sale negotiations continue.


Official figures, released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, showed 58,602 cars and commercials were sold in February, 7202 vehicles or 14 per cent more than in January, but 6.2 percent down on February last year, which had one fewer selling day.


This equated to an adjusted reduction of 2.3 percent or 57 vehicles a day.


Holden’s executive director of sales and marketing, Ross McKenzie, said February’s result was indicative of the strength of the brand’s entire product range.


“We expect the sales momentum in the four cylinder market to continue throughout the year with the new Barina (Opel Corsa) and the (Opel) Zafira compact wagon – yet to be released – the introduction of new (Opel) Astra variants and the release of a limited edition (Opel) Vectra,” he said.


Toyota’s chief executive and vice president John Conomos said that, while he was highly conscious of Holden extending its lead, he was “not overly concerned”.


“Our sales are tracking our business plan and we were frustrated by poor supply of certain models, a position which will improve during the year,” he said.


Conomos again said the biggest difficulty facing Japanese importers was currency exchange rates.


He gave notice of another price rise of Toyota vehicles on April 1 of between 1.5 and four percent.


The Toyota boss said the Australian dollar had devalued against the yen by 48 percent over the past 24 months, while price increases had recovered only nine percent.


Ford Australia hopes its fortunes will improve from next year with the release of a new Falcon and, possibly, a small car replacement for the [Kia Pride-based] Festiva dropped from the range some time ago.


The passenger market produced mixed results.


The small car segment was up 3918 vehicles or 19.6 percent; large car sales were up 1839 or 7.3 percent; and luxury car registrations rose by 617 units or 19.1 percent.


People movers (MPVs or minivans) also were up, by 283 or 21.3 percent.


However, light cars fell by 4579 units or 30.4 percent; the medium car segment, in decline for some time, fell by 904 cars or 15.2 percent; prestige cars were down 669 (14.4 percent) and sports car sales fell by 121 units or 8.6 percent.


The light commercial vehicle market came in at 30,491, a marginal 93 vehicles or three percent down on last February.


Top 10 Australian marques – February:

























































\sgwg
volume

market share (%)
1 Holden
12378

21.1
2 Toyota
9602

16.4
3 Ford
8980

15.3
4 Mitsubishi
5516

9.4
5 Nissan
3798

6.5
6 Hyundai
3079

5.3
7 Mazda
2134

3.6
8 Honda
2052

3.5
9 Subaru
2149

3.7
10 Mercedes-Benz
1346

2.3

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