Australia is a highly competitive and fragmented new car market, with about 50 brands battling over a million or so annual sales at most – based on projections for 2020.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t a heap of products available overseas that we want here, but don’t get.
See, Australia has a few things going against it: we’re a right-hand drive country in a world dominated by left-hand drive cars, and engineering products and tooling factories for both costs a heck of a lot more money – money which needs to be paid off through sales.
Our own ADR regulations make it expensive to get a car homologated, and a poor exchange rate right now makes building a business case for niche products a fraught affair. Moreover, three-quarters of all new cars sold are compact SUVs, large SUVs, small hatches/sedans, and 4×4 utes, and the best-selling brand on its own has 20 per cent market share.
It’s not fertile soil for all players. But with all that in mind, here are nevertheless some cars we think would have a shot at success locally if their makers pulled the trigger.
Hyundai Veloster N
The Hyundai i30 N, which was developed at the famed Nurburgring and project-led by ex-BMW M Division honcho Albert Biermann, has revolutionised how Australians see the brand.
The Veloster packs the same fierce 2.0-litre turbo engine and razor-sharp dynamic package with LSD that makes the i30 N a formidable hot hatch, but packages it in the sleeker and asymmetrical Veloster body (with two doors on one side and one on the other). It also premiered the new eight-speed wet-clutch DCT auto that’ll appear in the i30 N very soon.
While its a polarising looker, Australians love their pocket rockets, and there must be some people who lust after the i30 N’s performance but want a racier design than either i30 body style offers.
Alas, it’s not available to right-hand drive markets for now. Not even UK demand could make the business case stack up.
It just won World Car of the Year, and has swept all before it in US comparison tests. One motoring writer in Europe recently said it was now the best American SUV, outgunning established locals like Jeep in the process.
The Telluride is the first Kia designed specifically for the USA, is a product of the Kia Design Centre in Irvine, California, and is built in the state of Georgia.
Its brash styling, three-row seating layout, V6 engine, and a price point that undercuts its competitors has truly set the cat amongst the pigeons.
However, its US focus makes it a left-hand drive only proposition for now, meaning the biggest and best SUV Kia makes for markets like ours will remain the Sorento, which was itself just revealed in new-generation form. Pity, since this cut-price Volvo XC90 would be right at home locally.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
The uptake of electric cars in Australia is much lower than it is in Europe, much of Asia (Japan, Korea and China the main examples) and the USA. That’s because car brands would generally prefer to send the limited supply they can produce to countries with government subsidies and widespread public DC charging infrastructure instead.
While many brands are nevertheless bringing EVs here, Ford is not one of them yet. The bold Mustang Mach-E all-electric crossover is a whole new take on the Pony Car badge, with slinky crossover design, a tech-laden interior, a driving range up to 600km, and a 0-100km/h sprint time of around five seconds promised.
Tesla Model Y, watch out!
Not in Australia, though, since we aren’t going to get it. What’s even more frustrating is the fact that it’ll be sold in the UK. While Australians love the V8 Mustang coupe and convertible, it seems there remain roadblocks to public acceptance of this EV crossover locally.
But if the factory price can be negotiated to a reasonable figure, why not roll the dice?
Toyota Corolla 2.0 Hybrid
The Toyota Corolla hybrid has been a smash hit locally. The Corolla is Australia’s most popular passenger car, and the petrol-electric version has accounted for more than half of those sold this year.
It’s just $1500 more than the non-hybrid, and slashes fuel use to a ridiculously low 4.2L/100km.
While the 1.8-litre petrol engine and small motor/battery combination is excellent for saving fuel, its performance is adequate rather than heart-pounding. Which is a slight shame since the new Corolla’s TNGA chassis is surprisingly good, and offers uncharacteristically good body control and handling. It’s – quiet now – a bit sporty.
But our friends in England get a Corolla with a 2.0-litre hybrid making power output of 137kW. While this has been developed for Europe, we’d love to see this model come to Australia as a sort of performance-lite offering that gives the chassis a little more poke to play with. Come on Toyota, give yourselves an Australian hybrid halo…
Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake
We get it, luxury leader Mercedes-Benz has a bewildering array of products in Australia and needed to trim back its range.
But in a world of bland SUVs, the second-generation CLA Shooting Brake is a sexy, slinky mini wagon that turns heads. We get the sedan-coupe model here, but this version was deemed to be a niche within a niche, and therefore extraneous.
I respectfully disagree. Of all the Mercedes MFA-platform-based transverse compact products, only the GLB packs the same stylistic panache as the CLA Shooting Brake. Even if MB’s local arm made it special-order only…
Nissan sold the two previous generations of the Micra locally, but the latest one hasn’t surfaced here. Tumbling profit margins have seen numerous brands withdraw themselves from the light-car market, and the fact this new Micra is based on the Renault Clio and comes from Europe makes it an even harder car to price right.
However, Nissan Australia also lacks any non-SUV offering at the low end of its range, and arguably is losing potential buyers to rival brands. With chic styling, plenty of cabin tech, and a punchy 1.0-litre turbo engine with automatic and manual transmissions, the new Micra is just the tonic.
After all, not everyone wants a Juke or Qashqai, and if we had to choose a supermini for our urban needs, this Nissan would be on our shortlist. Nissan would be wise to broaden its range, and here is the ideal starting place. It’s already sold in the UK so the wheel is on the right side…
Honda is downsizing in Australia. It’s moving to a fixed-price model and reducing the number of cars it offers, citing tumbling profits as the key driver. Thus the focus will turn to the HR-V, CR-V, and Civic to drive its volumes.
The biggest news is the choice to axe the Jazz, once stock of the current model is exhausted. Which means the brand new version of the market’s most practical light car won’t make it to our shores. Since this car has always has a unique selling point, that’s a crying shame.
The new range comes with a hybrid drivetrain, a vastly more high-tech interior, picks up a crossover-styled derivative, and retains the flat-out fantastic Magic Seats that turn this diminutive city slicker into a van. It’ll be missed.