Toyota Widens Lead Over GM, Ford as Aussies Favor Imports

Toyota Motor Corp. widened its lead over General Motors Co. in the Australian car market last year, lifting sales by 20 percent as the strength of the local currency favored imports over domestically made models.

Mazda Motor Corp. and Hyundai Motor Co. also overtook Ford Motor Co. in sales, according to annual data from Australia’s Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries released today. Imports rose 12 percent to 972,236 vehicles while local producers cut output, shrinking their sales by 1.5 percent to 139,796 units.

GM’s Holden unit, Toyota and Ford -- the three carmakers that produce locally -- have announced almost 1,000 job cuts in total over the past year as the Australian dollar’s appreciation made local manufacturing uncompetitive. The government, which halved import tariffs to 5 percent at the start of 2010, has pledged a A$5.4 billion ($5.6 billion) package to support the domestic car industry until 2020.

“For the second successive year a small imported car, the Mazda 3, is Australia’s most popular model,” Tony Weber, chief executive officer of the Federal Chamber, said in a statement. The car ended the 15-year dominance of Holden’s locally built Commodore when it became the country’s bestseller in 2011, based on data from the trade body.

About 44,000 units of the Mazda 3 were sold last year, a 6.5 percent gain from 2011.

The Australian dollar has been the best-performing major currency against the U.S. dollar in the past three years, gaining 16 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Market Record

Total new vehicle sales rose 10 percent to a record 1.1 million in 2012. The increase was driven by sports-utility vehicles and four-wheel drive pickups, whose sales both increased 25 percent.

SUV sales were almost 62,000 higher than in 2011, accounting for about three-fifths of the improvement in the total market.

Market leader Toyota’s sales increased to 218,176 units from 181,624, the trade body said.

Ford has been manufacturing cars in Australia since it built a plant in Melbourne to assemble Model T cars in 1925. The company will cut production at the local unit by about 29 percent and fire one in seven workers at its main plant, as sales of its flagship Falcon car slumped, Ford said in July.

That model, which Ford has produced in the country since 1960, saw sales slump 25 percent last year and doesn’t rank among the 10 best-selling models.

Among the top 10, the Holden Commodore and the Holden Cruze were the only models whose sales fell in 2012, declining 25 percent and 14 percent respectively.

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