The majority of vehicle categories in Australia have clearly established sales leaders that look untouchable in the 2021 showroom race.
Yet there are still plenty of segments where there are tantalising contests that are too close to call.
Now we're a third of the way into the new year, we look at the six biggest and most intriguing category fights of 2021 so far:
HYUNDAI i30 v TOYOTA COROLLA – SMALL CARS
The small-car segment may have fallen in popularity but the i30 and Corolla remain showroom powerhouses – and incredibly, account for more than half of this sizeable category between them.
Toyota’s veteran nameplate leads the way with 9454 sales and 28 per cent market share so far in 2021, but the Hyundai is closing the gap. There have been 8681 i30 sales after the first four months of the year, equating to a 25 per cent market share.
And where Corolla sales are up six per cent, i30 sales have increased 29 per cent year-on-year – the best growth of any mainstream small car. The i30 range has been helped by the addition of a sedan body style after Hyundai renamed the Elantra that was a four-door i30 in all but name.
Both models are well clear of the third-placed Kia Cerato, which sits at 5993 units year to date – down one per cent. There’s potential for it to be overtaken by the Mazda 3, which is enjoying something of a bounce-back with 24 per cent growth.
The small-car segment is down seven per cent year to date.
BMw 3 SERIES v MERCEDES-BENZ C-CLASS – MEDIUM LUXURY CARS
The latest-generation BMW 3 Series last year ended several years of segment domination by the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Yet, despite an all-new C-Class having been unveiled and due here in late 2021, the Mercedes is fighting back.
With 67 per cent growth year to date, the C-Class leads the category with 1394 sales. In contrast, 3 Series sales have increased 26 per cent to leave it on 1203 units so far. The BMW was a convincing winner in April though, so this looks like it could go down to the wire again after just 28 sales split the German duo in 2020 (3406 3 Series v 3378 C-Class).
No other competitor comes close, though the heavily updated Lexus IS has lifted sales by a huge 188 per cent to place it third on 506 sales.
HYUNDAI KONA v MG ZS v MITSUBISHI ASX – SMALL SUVS
The volume small-SUV category is on fire – up 54 per cent year to date, for 43,694 sales. There are several strong players involved but there’s a multinational trio well ahead of the pack.
Korea’s Hyundai Kona, China’s MG ZS and Japan’s Mitsubishi ASX are the only models to exceed 5000 units up to April, and combined account for more than a third of a segment featuring nearly 20 vehicles.
Mitsubishi’s ASX has been around for more than a decade, yet continues to defy its age with front-runner status. It leads with 5630 sales, which equates to a 23 per cent year-to-date increase and 12.9 per cent market share.
MG’s MG3 is already dominating the city car class, though the Chinese brand’s meteoric rise is being spearheaded by its ZS model. Comprising regular variants and more premium-focused ZST variants, the ZS range has grown 383 per cent compared to the same period last year. With 5415 sales, the MG is snapping at the ASX’s heels.
Just 10 units behind, however, is the Kona, which is up 63 per cent year to date and identically matched to the ZS in 12.4 per cent market share.
Next best? The Mazda CX-30, up 81 per cent at 4048 sales.
BMW X3 v MERCEDES-BENZ GLB v VOLVO XC60 – MEDIUM LUXURY SUVS
Three models are listed in the headline, though only 317 units separate six contenders in the premium medium SUV segment. The picture can easily change over the next eight months, but for now it’s one of the class’s newest entrants and one of its rare seven-seaters that has a finger on the trophy.
The new Mercedes-Benz GLB, a funkier-looking, five-plus-two version of the GLA compact SUV, has 1437 sales to its credit so far this year. It’s only eight units ahead of the BMW X3, though, which has 1429 sales through 13 per cent growth and victory in the April sales battle.
That growth is nothing, however, compared with the 87 per cent rise for the Volvo XC60, with the Swede in touching distance with 1374 sales year to date. It should also be boosted later this year by an updated model, due in the third quarter.
Audi recently introduced an updated Q5, and it too has promise with 47 per cent growth so far in 2021, at 1210 sales.
Mercedes’s more conventional medium luxury SUV, the GLC wagon, is fifth with 1171 sales but down 13 per cent. The figure doesn’t include 283 sales for the Coupe spin-off variant, which is down 33 per cent and trailing BMW’s equivalent model, the X3-based X4 (307 sales).
The Lexus NX is the other model to have surpassed four figures, sitting on 1120 sales from a 14 per cent increase in sales.
Overall, the premium mid-sized SUV category has passed 10,000 sales (10,121) and is up 29 per cent year to date.
BMW X5 v MERCEDES-BENZ GLE – LARGE LUXURY SUVS
In the next segment up, it’s a simple two-horse race at this stage between two long-time rivals that have been around in different generations since before the turn of the century.
The latest, fourth-generation X5 has the upper hand after the first four months of 2021, with 44 per cent growth taking it to 1160 sales and a chance to replicate its 2020 leadership success.
Mercedes-Benz’s GLE, formerly the ML, isn’t a mile away with 1076 sales, though, even if growth is smaller at eight per cent.
And if you combine the GLE wagon and Coupe siblings, they currently lead sales of the X5 and X6 twins by 1475 to 1338. This turns the tables for now on 2020’s combined results.
The biggest mover of 2021 is the Volvo XC90, which has increased sales year to date by 121 per cent – or up from 258 to 569 units.
FORD RANGER v TOYOTA HILUX – 4X4 UTES
Sales in the tradie-focused 4x2 ute category continue to give the Toyota HiLux a big edge in overall sales but the work-and-play mix of the 4x4 segment also remains a great stoush between the HiLux and Ford’s Ranger.
The HiLux had a fairly comfortable lead over the Ranger at the end of March, but the Ford thumped its arch-rival by more than 1350 units in April to close the gap significantly – and help make it Australia’s most popular vehicle last month.
Overall, just 405 sales separate the utes with both having similar year-to-date growth – 47 per cent in the case of the HiLux and 41 per cent for the Ranger.
In the Ranger’s favour is a raft of new variants coming in July; working against it is the next-generation Ranger that is set to be unveiled later this year and may prompt some buyers to hold off for the newer version due to go on sale in early 2022.
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