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Fuel Prices Not Driving Australia’s Purchasing Trends

The past six months has seen fuel prices in Australia rise by over 30% which has made a significant impact on Australian’s ever tightening family budgets. It has however failed to curb Australians’ demand for new cars with sales setting an all-time record in the first half of this year.

And fuel-guzzling four-wheel-drives have set the pace, seemingly pouring cold water on claims that buyers are turning to smaller more economical vehicles as the price of petrol soars.

Medium-sized four-wheel-drive sales were up sharply with 18.5 per cent growth in the first half of the year, compared with growth of just 3.5 per cent for the rest of the market.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries official figures show that 542, 695 new cars, trucks and buses were sold in the first six months of this year, up 18,319 vehicles on last years record result.

The chief executive of the FCAI, Andrew McKellar says the result is encouraging in the current economic circumstances.

"Business sales in particular have remained resilient in the face of interest rate rises, fuel price increases and general turbulence in world financial markets," he says.

But despite the record sales, he admits there are signs that the market is slowing, with June sales up just 1.4 per cent on the same month last year.

“The market has remained reasonably robust in the first half of the year but it’s clear that the rate of growth has throttled back from where it was last year in line with the broader economic climate,” he says.

McKellar is tipping the new car market will pass one million sales again this year, but he is not willing to predict a new record market. Sales passed the magic million mark for the first time last year with 1,068,301 vehicles sold an increase of almost 65,000 vehicles over the previous financial year.

He puts the growth in four-wheel-drive sales down to new model launches and the fact that a large proportion of offroaders are diesel and therefore use less fuel than some petrol cars.

Toyota was once again the dominant force in the marketplace, selling a record 25,624 new vehicles in June alone.

The Toyota Corolla was the country’s top-selling car in the first half of the year, eclipsing the Holden Commodore, which has been the country’s top-selling car for the past twelve years.

Toyota has captured almost a quarter of the new car market in the first six months of the year and has a lead of more than 60,000 sales over second-placed Holden. Its sales are more than double those of third placed Ford.

However, Toyota’s senior executive director sales and marketing, David Buttner, is also tipping a possible slowdown for the industry in the second half of the year.

"We expect the second half to be tougher for the industry, although the final total should be similar to last year’s record," he said.

Small car sales have grown by 5,410 sales or 4.6 per cent in the first half of the year, while two-wheel-drive ute sales have grown by 4,158 sales or 12 per cent.

The increase of luxury car tax which took place on the 1st of July has also driven a rise in luxury vehicle sales as buyers rushed to beat its introduction. It is expected to level out over the second half of 2008.