SYDNEY -- While Australian consumers might still be reluctant to spend in stores, they are driving into motor dealerships across the country in droves. New-car sales are up 9% compared to last year, with 822,674 vehicles sold since the start of this year, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
SUV sales continue to eat into the demand for passenger cars, with sales of SUVs rising 20% in September compared with August, while passenger-vehicle sales rose just 3%. Large-vehicle sales continue to fall, and the Holden Commodore has been relegated to fifth behind the Mazda3, Toyota Hilux, Hyundai i30, and the Toyota Corolla. The Commodore was Australia's most popular car for 15 consecutive years until 2011, when it was knocked off by the Mazda3. Ford doesn't even have one vehicle in the top-10-selling cars in September.
The growth in new-car sales is good news for several companies associated with the motor vehicle industry, including bullbar and canopy maker ARB Corporation (ASX: ARP.AX) and Super Retail Group (ASX: SUL.AX), with its Super Cheap Auto Accessories stores. Metcash Limited (ASX: MTS.AX) should also reap some of the benefits with its 75% ownership of Automotive Brands, a company with Autobarn retail stores, Autopro dealership groups, and a car parts division.
The figures have been spurred by heavy discounting, with several companies facing declining sales, offering 0% finance as they try to turn flagging fortunes around.
Ford, General Motors Holden, and Toyota, which are under pressure by the high Australian dollar and rising costs, recently complained about the Australian Customs Service suggestion that imported steel should attract a tariff of up to 15.45%. The tariff is designed to protect Australia's biggest steel maker, BlueScope Steel Limited (ASX: BSL.AX), but makes it more difficult for local manufacturers to compete against imported vehicles.
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