New Car Sales: Q1 Review – Winners and Losers

Will Australia’s new-car market hit the magic million in 2021?

Xxhr 09 2020 Toyota Hi Lux SR 5 Main 781 1 Jpg

Australia’s new-car market has the potential to return to one-million-plus sales in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic made 2020 the first year to miss the magic mark since 2009 suffered from the aftermath of the global financial crisis.

Last month was the first March to pass 100,000 sales since 2018 – a monthly result that, historically, has always concluded with the market going on to reach the seven-figure milestone.

Another good omen is is that in every year that the month of March has achieved 100,000 vehicle registrations, the market has gone on to reach the seven-figure milestone.

The second is that 2021’s first quarter total of 263,538 equates to a 13 per cent increase compared with the first three months of 2020. If that growth is maintained, the market will nudge over one-million units by about 8600 vehicles.

It’s also worth noting that 2021 has achieved this result despite the absence of Holden, which even this time last year had contributed 9000 sales.

However, there are also reasons to be cautious.

This year’s Q1 total is the lowest since 260,122 vehicles were registered in the first three months of 2012. And it’s nearly 30,000 vehicles short of the Q1 total in the record 2018.

Supply issues – notably the global computer chip shortage – prevented March 2021 from reaching its full potential and could take months or longer to be resolved. And, of course, future state lockdowns can’t ever be ruled out in the era of a pandemic.

The next few months will reveal more clues, but for now let’s take a look at the models and brands leading the way in the sales races.


Hilux 3 Jpg

Toyota’s HiLux ute looks unstoppable again, heading inevitably for its sixth consecutive crowning as Australia’s most popular vehicle.

The HiLux is more than 4000 units ahead of the second-placed Ford Ranger ute, which has grown only 12 per cent in sales year on year compared with the Toyota’s 41 per cent increase.

However, the biggest movers in the ute segment are the new-generation Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50 twins. The ever-popular D-Max is up 75 per cent compared with Q1 2020, with 6161 sales so far putting it hot on the heels of the Mitsubishi Triton in seventh place and with 11 per cent growth for the same period.

The BT-50 is outside of the Top 10 Models list with 3607 units, though has been boosted by a 103 per cent jump in sales of its 4x4 variants.

All four models have contributed to an industry first: The Light Commercial segment now leads Passenger Cars in overall year-to-date sales – 60,066 to 59,144. Read our separate story.

D MAX 4 Jpg

SUVs only overtook passenger cars for the first time in 2017 yet are now miles ahead, with 135,900 sales across January, February and March.

The top performers this year are all familiar, led by the Toyota RAV4 (up eight per cent) that’s on the podium with the HiLux and Ranger.

Mazda’s mid-sized SUV rival, the perennially popular CX-5, has been in the Top 10 every month so far and a particularly stellar March has given 29 per cent growth year on year and fifth place.

Age is not wearing the company’s smallest SUV, either. The CX-3, released in 2015, is up 20 per cent and rounds out the top 10. It sits behind another golden-oldie, the Nissan X-Trail.

Passenger-car sales may be in freefall but the Toyota Corolla (fourth) and Hyundai i30 (sixth) small cars refuse to depart the Top 10 chart. Corolla sales are down four per cent though the i30, which now includes a sedan body style after the Elantra was renamed, is up 10 per cent.

The D-Max and BT-50 aren’t the only new-generation models to go well in early 2021.

BMW 4 Series COTY 2021 finalist

There are stand-out increases for the latest versions of the BMW 4 Series (up 206%), Kia Carnival people-mover (up 37 per cent for a vehicle that already dominates its segment), Kia Sorento large SUV (up 113%), Lexus IS luxury sedan (up 157 per cent), Mercedes-Benz S-Class (up 94 per cent), Nissan Juke (up a staggering 795 per cent), and Subaru Outback (up 120 per cent year on year after its eye-opening March introduction increased sales by 191 per cent over March 2020.

Other triple-digit-growth heroes include the BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe (up 155 per cent) and Suzuki Ignis (up 186 per cent).

BMW’s 1 Series is also up 24 per cent, giving it hopes of overtaking the usually dominant A-Class that is down 41 per cent.

Toyota’s hefty price increases for the Yaris are clearly hurting its city car, which is down 45 per cent year compared with the same period last year. Camry is also down 30 per cent though still commands more than two-thirds market share of the medium-car category.

2021 Ford Focus ST Line Review Jpg

Well-known small cars, the Ford Focus and Honda Civic, are struggling with respective drops of 43 and 44 per cent.

And while hybrid sales have increased 25 per cent, it’s not all rosy for petrol-electric models. The Toyota Prius and Prius V continue to decline significantly (down 64 and 58 per cent), while sales of Hyundai’s Ioniq range – which also includes plug-in and fully electric variants – have almost halved compared with Q1 2020.

TOP 10 MODELS: Q1 2021

First-quarter sales and growth/decline

  1. TOYOTA HILUX – 14,040  (+41%)
  2. FORD RANGER – 10,003  (+12%  
  3. TOYOTA RAV4 – 9338  (+8%)
  4. TOYOTA COROLLA – 7381  (-4%)
  5. MAZDA CX-5 – 7151  (+29%)
  6. HYUNDAI I30 – 6676  (+10%)
  7. MITSUBISHI TRITON – 6161  (+11%)  
  8. ISUZU D-MAX – 5581  (+75%)
  9. NISSAN X-TRAIL – 4676  (+11%)
  10. MAZDA CX-3 – 4467  (+20%)


The biggest change to the Top 10 between March 2021 and March 2020 is the absence of Holden, which had made it into last spot with 9000 sales.

That place is now occupied by Mercedes-Benz when including its utes and vans. (We combine the company’s passenger cars and light-commercial vehicles for a more accurate comparison, where VFACTS separates them.)

And Subaru (up 28 per cent) displaces Honda (down 34 per cent) in eighth.

Otherwise, the top seven positions are unchanged from the same quarter last year, with Mazda showing the biggest growth of the leading brands and increasing its market share from 8.9 to 10.5 per cent.

Volkswagen may be the odd brand out with its seven per cent decline, though the German car maker’s situation is distorted significantly by the Golf’s supply situation. It’s effectively in limbo as VW Australia awaits the eighth-generation Golf with stock of the outgoing 7.5 all but totally exhausted.

Mazda Cx 3 Mg Zs Duo 281 29 Jpg

MG’s remarkable rise from obscurity to popularity continues, with 163 per cent year-on-year growth putting it on 8728 sales and the fringes of the top 10. This has been achieved with just three models.

MG isn’t the only Chinese success story. GWM/Haval and LDV are both up 118 per cent. Read our separate story.

Isuzu Ute is another brand that punches well above its weight in the models-to-sales ratio. New-generation versions of its only two vehicles – the D-Max ute and related MU-X SUV – have lifted sales to 8046 so far, up 68 per cent.

A very good year so far, too, for the likes of Aston Martin (up 59 per cent), Jeep (up 68 per cent), RAM trucks (up 30 per cent), Skoda (up 79 per cent), SsangYong (up 113 per cent) and Volvo (up 67 per cent; see separate story).

And although coming off low sales bases, there are positive moves for Genesis (up 223 per cent, or 67 cars) and Lotus (up 50 per cent, or five cars).

2021 Genesis GV 80 Road Handling Jpg

The majority of Australia’s automotive brands have registered sales increases as the market recovers, though several brands have failed to jump on the growth bandwagon so far.

Alfa Romeo is down 28 per cent, Citroen is down 43 per cent to continue the French brand’s struggles in this country, Ferrari is having a rare off-year with a 41 per cent decline, and Jaguar sales have halved compared with Q1 2020. Sister brand Land Rover will also be disappointed with its nine per cent drop.

MORE: Volvo news and reviews
MORE: All new car sales stories


  1. TOYOTA HILUX - 5319 - up 49.6% YTD
  2. FORD RANGER - 3983 - up 28.2% YTD
  3. TOYOTA RAV4 - 3522 - up 17.8% YTD
  4. MAZDA CX-5 - 3022 - up 74.3% YTD
  5. TOYOTA COROLLA - 2892 - up 2.8% YTD
  6. HYUNDAI I30 - 2514 - up 35.5% YTD
  7. MITSUBISHI TRITON - 2492 - up 37.5% YTD
  8. TOYOTA LANDCRUISER - 2244 - up 78.0% YTD
  9. ISUZU D-MAX - 1994 - up 35.9% YTD
  10. NISSAN X-TRAIL - 1932 - up 46.0% YTD


  1. TOYOTA - 21,319 - up 21.2% YTD
  2. MAZDA - 10,785 - up 58.2% YTD
  3. HYUNDAI - 6852 - up 29.1% YTD
  4. MITSUBISHI - 6430 - up 7.1% YTD
  5. FORD - 5977 - up 23.1% YTD
  6. KIA - 5802 - up 2.6% YTD
  7. NISSAN - 4559 - up 30.2% YTD
  8. SUBARU - 4212 - up 39.3% YTD
  9. VOLKSWAGEN - 3358 - up 17.0% YTD
  10. MG - 3303 - up 167.7% YTD


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