CANBERRA – Rising fuel prices finally drive Australian new-vehicle sales lower, after a spectacular run of record monthly results for more than three years.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries’ figures show October sales slid 6.8% year-on-year to 76,118 units. Sales were down 9.9% from September.

Australia in the first 10 months sold 825,465 vehicles, up 4.2%, or 33,551 vehicles ahead of year-ago, after setting sales records in eight of the last 10 months.

Mazda3 saw best-ever sales month.

Chamber CEO Peter Sturrock says despite October’s setback, the market continues headed for its fourth-straight annual sales record – and by a substantial margin.

“The slight downturn in the market last month could be the result of extensive media coverage about rising petrol (gasoline) prices affecting consumer confidence,” Sturrock says.

“Even though petrol prices have somewhat come back down, it’s possible some consumers are waiting to see where prices settle before deciding what kind of motor vehicle they buy.”

Although overall October sales fell, small and light passenger-car segments rose. Small-car sales increased 10.9% over like-2004 and light-car sales rose 2.9%. Year-to date, the small-car segment climbed 20.4%, or 30,424 units ahead of prior year. (See related story: Small Cars Accelerate Australia’s September Sales)

Sales of medium SUVs jumped 22.3% compared with like-2004, and 4-wheel-drive pickups rose 6.5%.

However, the large-car segment has slipped. The Ford Falcon in October was down to 142 sales per day and the Holden Commodore sold 192 units on a daily basis. This contrasted with the peak month of June, when Falcon sold 217 units a day and the Commodore 273 units.

The big decline in large-car sales saw Mazda Australia Pty. Ltd. sell more passenger cars in October than Ford Motor Co. of Australia Ltd. Year-to-date, GM Holden Ltd., Ford and Toyota Motor Corp. of Australia Ltd. have sold fewer vehicles so far this year than last.

The result is a rapid increase in marketing, with GM Holden copying the "employee-pricing" scheme used by parent General Motors Corp. in the U.S.

"Perhaps the October figures are a sign that people are hesitating more now, but we still think the market will get to the 1 million mark," Sturrock says. “There are still two traditionally strong months to go before the end of the year."(See related story: Toyota Australia Looks to Record Sales for Year)

Toyota remained the top-selling brand in October with 15,045 units, for a 19.8% share of the market. Holden sold 13,923 vehicles for an 18.3% market share, and Ford saw 9,192 deliveries for 12.1% of the market.

Mazda sold 6,001 units for 7.9% market share, and Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd. delivered 4,752 vehicles for 6.2% market share.

Year-to-date, Toyota tops the sales charts with 166,548 units, followed by GM Holden with 147,564.

Mitsubishi Australia says its new large 380 sedan is on track after its release Oct. 13, with some 2,186 cars sold in the month. (See related story: Mitsubishi 380 Hits Oz Dealerships)

A strategic decision to hold back pricing details until mid-October has largely been responsible for only 951 cars being delivered, but the auto maker says dealers are holding a very strong order bank that is continuing to grow daily.

As a result, Mitsubishi says it is expecting a strong November as 380 sales flow through. In addition to the 380, Lancer sales of 1,383 units jumped 26% ahead of September and surged 46% compared with October 2004.

One segment of gas guzzlers that saw sales rise was sports cars, up 13%.

Sales of the Holden Monaro V-8 coupe grew to 350 units from 229 in September. Holden’s Astra Convertible sold 95 units, up from 74 in September and the Tigra saw 98 deliveries in its first month on the market.

The combined sales gave Holden a 51% share of the sports-car market.

Also in the segment, the new Mazda MX5, released in mid-September, saw its best month since November 2000, with 156 units.

Toyota extended its overall market lead after the Corolla sold 3,988 units in October, making it the second-best selling vehicle of any kind for the month. In September, it was the first small car ever to lead Australia’s monthly sales.

“The performance of Corolla and the small-car segment as a whole defied October’s general downturn of the overall car market,” David Buttner, Toyota Australia executive director-sales and marketing, says.

Toyota sold a total of 15,045 vehicles in October, stretching its year-to-date lead over GM Holden to about 19,000 vehicles.

Toyota’s new-generation HiLux sold 2,619 units,to dominate the pickup/cab chassis segment. Sales of the HiLux 4x4 jumped 21.2% ahead of year-ago, while HiLux 4x2 sales rose 1.1%.

Toyota HiLux dominates the pickup segment.

With 10 consecutive months of record sales, Audi Australia Pty. Ltd. saw October sales climb 62% to 404 units, taking its 10-month total 41% higher than like-2004 at 4,001 units.

Mazda posted a record October, as sales rose 46% year-on-year to 6,001 units. The result also was up 21.7% on September. It was only the third time Mazda has sold more than 6,000 units in a month, and the result gave it a 7.9% market share.

The Mazda3 had its best month ever with 3,142 sales. The face-lifted Mazda2 and Mazda6 also saw their best October, with 571 and 1,231 units, respectively.

“We are still on track to achieve our revised sales target of 67,000 (units), which is 7,000 more than we predicted at the start of the year,” Mazda Australia Managing Director Doug Dickson says.

Mazda already has set an annual sales record with year-to-date sales of 55,659 vehicles, beating the previous high of 55,560 units in 2004. Sales this year are up 20.3%.

Hyundai Motor Co. Australia Pty. Ltd. again finished sixth in the market with sales of 3,508 units, for a 4.6% market share. Year-to-date, Hyundai has raised its sales by 14.5% to 40,549 units.

The Getz was the most popular choice in the light-car class, with 968 sales. The Tucson came within four units of its best-ever month with 380 sales, boosted by the arrival of the more fuel-frugal 2.0L 2-wheel-drive Tucson City.

Strong global demand for the new Sonata continued to hamper availability locally, although Hyundai says more supplies now are arriving.