The long-running and fiercely-fought big car battle Down Under has stalled into a no-contest, writes Mike Duffy.

The Commodore made by General Motors' Australian affiliate Holden outsold its long-time rival, Ford's Falcon, by more than two to one in April.

Falcon sales slumped to their lowest April level ever - a paltry 3,334 cars and wagons.

This compared with 6,923 Commodores resulting in the Holden establishing a 10,648 lead over the Ford for the first four months of the year - 26,264 units to 15,616.

Ford Australia president Geoff Polites said: "Don't write off Ford or Falcon - we'll be back stronger than ever.

"We didn't get into this situation overnight and it'll take time to turn things around.

"Falcon is a good car being marked down by large sections of the user-chooser market because of a perception it is flawed - and that is definitely not the case.''

Ford took a calculated risk with the styling of the latest model, launched in September 1998. The previous Falcon was nearly identical to the previous Commodore but, for the new model, the designers came up with a radical shape which could have proved popular had it not been for a severe slope-off at the rear.

In a country which likes its cars to have broad shoulders, rear drive and masses of metal, the big, brutish Commodore immediately raced ahead of the Falcon.

Ford did some quick cosmetic work - which cost around $A40 million - to try to solve the problem and came out with the Falcon AUII in April last year.

The Holden Commodore outsold its long-time rival, Ford's Falcon, by 2 to 1 in April

Strategic Review-

General Motors

A spoiler was fitted to solve the rear-end styling problem and noise, vibration and harshness were reduced by several clever measures, including a laminated firewall.

The 'new' car gave the Falcon badge a lift, but dealers have hardly helped head office by heavily discounting the big Ford - destroying retained values and angering fleet operators in the process.

Ford's situation reached a low point last month.

As Holden romped to market leadership in April with 12,156 sales to its credit, Ford limped in with a meagre 6,997.

Mitsubishi came in fourth with 5,137 sales in April. The Magna/Verada range outselling Toyota's Camry/Vienta with 1,947 registrations to 1,790 was a rare bright spot for the embattled car maker which is fighting for its survival.

Holden has now stretched its year-to-date lead over Toyota to 7,669 cars and commercials for 20.3 percent of the total vehicle market.

Even with eight months to go, it now looks like it will be just a formality for Holden to win back the market leadership Toyota snatched last year.

While Ford is working to reverse current trends, Holden is in permanent celebration mode.

It was 'The General's' best April since 1979 - an impressive 23.7 percent ahead of its performance last year.

Holden also recorded its highest April passenger car sales for 22 years, claiming 25.9 percent of the segment.

According to VFACTS figures released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, April Australian sales of 57,305 units was 6,076 or 11.9 percent up on April, 2000.

The year-to-date tally of 236,258 vehicles is 6,983 vehicles, three percent up on last year.

Analysts are reluctant to accept that increased vehicle sales should calm fears of an economic downturn as last year's first-half sales were seriously depressed by the promises of cheaper prices under the new goods and services tax, introduced on July 1.

Top selling car companies in April and market share:

1 Holden
12,156 units
(21.2 percent)
2 Toyota
(17 percent)
3 Ford
(12.2 pre cent)
4 Mitsubishi
(9 percent)
5 Hyundai
(6 percent)
6 Nissan
(5.9 percent)
7 Mazda
(5.1 percent)
8 Subaru
(3.7 percent)
9 Honda
(3.5 percent)
10 Mercedes-Benz
(2.2 percent)

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

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