New car buyers aren’t flocking to showrooms in record numbers in 2023 despite a series of record monthly sales results.

    Australia’s annual sales total is heading towards an all-time high, somewhere beyond 1.2 million vehicles for the first time, but a growing number of car companies are reporting softening demand from buyers.

    It means the official monthly totals in VFACTS industry sales reports have become a measure of deliveries, not actual sales, for each month.

    “VFACTS is all about what you can deliver. Traditionally it’s based on a sales result,” the vice-president of sales and marketing at Toyota Australia, Sean Hanley, told CarExpert.

    “While the sales results are real, they are not necessarily reflective of the demand in the market of that given month. They’re only reflective of what any OEM, whatever brand, can actually deliver. ”

    Hyundai, too, reports a huge percentage of carryover deliveries from orders placed by customers back in 2022.

    “About 50 per cent are carryover and 50 per cent are fresh orders,” Hyundai Australia chief operating officer John Kett told CarExpert.

    “Certainly, the market growth is going to be impressive. But a lot of it is carryover from last year.”

    The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI)’s September VFACTS report saw a record number, as well as a nine-month total of nearly 900,000 vehicles, and the automotive peak body is encouraging buyers as supply rates continue to improve.

    “Our advice is that the supply of vehicles into Australia, including electric vehicles, continues to improve so those consumers who want to buy a new vehicle should visit a dealer or manufacturer,” said FCAI chief executive Tony Weber.

    But the big deliveries are not being matched by demand.

    “We’re seeing it softening. The order write is off, for us, by 10 per cent,” said Mr Kett.

    “The short answer is yes. We’ve been seeing it [softening] from about March this year,” said Mr Hanley.

    “I would think the real demand is if you go back to 2019. We’ve seeing it back to pre-COVID.”

    Mr Hanley believes the full-year total for 2024 will definitely top 1.2 million, but believes real customer demand is more than 100,000 units lower.

    “Real demand is not what we’ve experienced for the last 12 months. I think the real demand is probably reflective back to 2019. That would be a good benchmark,” he said.

    “That doesn’t necessarily mean the market is going to tank or the market will just dry up. It’s just there’s got to be a realisation. I still think it will be over a million.”

    According to Mr Hanley, some brands also look stronger than others in 2023 because they have had fewer restrictions on their production and shipping.

    “You have to be really careful when analysing some of the statistics,” he said.

    He also predicted a final-quarter surge by Toyota, the traditional market leader in Australia, as production returns to pre-COVID levels and more vehicles flow through its dealerships.

    “It’s quite positive. We are managing extraordinary volumes in the second half of the year. We’re working very hard with our shipping companies, our land transport companies, to ensure that we can have the capability and the capacity to deliver those cars,” said Mr Hanley.

    “The good news for customers is that a lot will get a nice Xmas present, I hope.”

    Paul Gover

    Paul Gover is one of the most experienced and respected motoring journalists in Australia. After more than 40 years on the automotive beat there is nothing he has not done, yet he still brings the enthusiasm of a rookie. He has worked in print, digital, radio, television and for every major publisher in the country. He is also a national motor racing champion and once co-drove with Peter Brock at Bathurst.

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