Toyota-gm.gif” vspace=10 width=175>New Zealand’s motor vehicle market is shaping up to be the most closely fought race ever, with only a few units separating the top three brands, writes Donn Anderson.

While new car sales are down, the competition is up and the old order is being rewritten.

Traditional market leader Toyota has come under heavy pressure and with the half-yearly sales confirmed, could manage only third, behind new leader General Motors Holden and multinational Ford.

Holden is the real winner in New Zealand car showrooms right now, improving its penetration of the total new vehicle market from 12.9% in the first half of 2000 to 16.2% for the same period this year.

The Australian-sourced Commodore, the upper-medium six and eight cylinder car that is based loosely on the German-designed Opel/Vauxhall Omega/Cadillac Catera, was number one New Zealand seller in 2000 and is a comfortable leader again so far this year.

The Commodore took 42.3% of the large car segment for the first half of 2001, compared to 24.8% for Ford’s runner-up Falcon.

For years regarded as a ‘one car company’, Holden now offers a wider spread of successful models to support the Commodore in New Zealand, a relatively small market where annual sales of about 50,000 new cars are outsold two-to-one by used cars imported mostly from Japan.

In May, Holden launched the new Corsa, built in GM’s plant in Zaragoza, Spain, and in the first two months of sales the compact hatchback, badged Down Under as the Holden Barina, was New Zealand’s top-selling small car.

The Barina’s performance shifted the Toyota Echo (Yaris/Vitz) from the top rung on the small car ladder where it had resided for more than a year.

The European-sourced Opel Astra and Vectra, also re-badged as Holdens for New Zealand, are doing well while the company’s light commercials, including the newly introduced Holden utility (pickup truck), are also selling better.

June saw Holden lead the light truck market for the eighth consecutive month.

While total new vehicle sales for the first six months of this year were down 5.7% on those in the first half of last year, Holden increased its sales from 4,687 to 5,555.

Ford’s volume increased from 5,353 to 5,499, which improved the company’s market penetration from 14.7% to 16.0%, while Toyota was down from 6,503 (17.9%) to 5,492 (16.0%).

A mere 63 units separated the top three marques after six months, with only seven units between Ford and Toyota.

In what is clearly a three horse race, almost half the Kiwi new vehicle market is currently held by the top three makes.

Fourth ranking Nissan achieved a 10.0% share, followed by Mitsubishi (7.4%), Honda (5.4%), Mazda (5.0%), Hyundai (3.8%), Suzuki (2.4%) and Volkswagen (2.1%).

Total industry sales at 34,361 for the six months compare with 36,428 for the same period last year, with light commercial vehicles being the only segment to show an improvement.

At 64,150, sales of used imported vehicles are 1.1% down on the first half of last year.

Demand for Ford’s new Belgian-built Mondeo range exceeds supply – a rare situation in the New Zealand market – and the company has moved the new Escape SUV, built by Mazda in Japan, into top spot in the four-wheel-drive recreational vehicle sector.

Toyota, on the other hand, has been having a difficult time with its once all-conquering Corolla (New Zealand’s best selling model for more than a decade) now languishing in fifth place.

The Australian-built Toyota Camry is third best selling model, albeit well behind the Commodore and Falcon, and only just ahead of Nissan’s rival Maxima.

In sixth place year-to-date is the new generation Honda Civic, followed by the Nissan Primera, Holden Vectra, Ford Mondeo and Nissan Pulsar (Almera).

 Donn Anderson is a freelance motoring journalist based in Auckland, New Zealand.

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