HiLux and Ranger top best selling vehicles in 2017

Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger
Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger

We explain why two dual-cab utes became the top-selling vehicles of 2017.

Back in 2008, Australians bought 1,012,250 vehicles and our tastes at the time demonstrate just how much the market has changed in a decade. Holden’s Commodore was our number one choice, as it had been for the previous 13 years, and the slogan of "football, meat pies and Holden cars" still had plenty of resonance. Snapping at its heels was the Toyota Corolla and Toyota HiLux in second and third place respectively.

But the popularity of SUVs was beginning to gain momentum, and the most popular ones at the time - the Toyota Prado, Subaru Forester, and Nissan X-Trail - were genuinely capable off-road vehicles and less 'urbanised' than today's SUVs. Ford's Territory range, launched four years earlier, was one of the first of the new breed of large SUVs to gain any traction against traditional 4WDs. Built on the Falcon platform, the Territory was more user-friendly in the suburbs than a bulky 4WD.

Last year, total car sales increased to 1,189,116 and SUVs overtook passenger cars for the first time, underscoring changes in buyer preference. While the mix of vehicles has shifted, many of the most popular vehicles still remain popular. Holden's Commodore, for well documented reasons, has slipped out of the top three. The Toyota HiLux has replaced it in first place, followed by its fierce competitor, the Ford Ranger, at number two, and the Toyota Corolla in third.

Not surprisingly, Toyota dominates the current market, with 215,566 vehicles sold last year - over 100,000 more than any other carmaker. The HiLux and Corolla aren't overnight sensations, of course, with both vehicles playing an integral role during Toyota's formative years.

It's no coincidence that light commercials and, particularly dual-cab utes, prosper today. Toyota did much of the early spadework, but the Ford Ranger was just 4365 units behind the top-selling HiLux last year. The Falcon had been ailing even before Ford ceased local manufacturing, and the Ranger was just the right vehicle the Blue Oval needed to provide volume.

Dual-cab utes have evolved from the worksite, with manufacturers figuring out that if they stretched the cabin, reduced the tray size, replaced the vinyl floor, and added some creature comforts, their appeal would broaden. Improvements in active and passive safety were another big factor, and all the market leaders now have a five-star ANCAP rating.

The wheezy, underpowered, old-school diesels have been dispatched to the knackery, replaced with more efficient high-output turbo versions. These have done wonders for general driveability, while fuel consumption for their size is reasonable. The Ranger, with its torquey 3.2-litre five-cylinder, develops 470Nm from just above idle and has a 3500kg tow rating.

Along with better engines have come improved automatic transmissions with more ratios. Offering an auto alternative to the truck-like manual transmissions common a decade ago has given the dual-cab ute much broader appeal.

So how will the market look 10 years from now? With manufacturers investing heavily in alternatives to the internal combustion engine - such as hybrid, PHEV, pure electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles - only a brave pundit would claim to predict accurately. If history is anything to go by, then it could be very different from what we see today.

HiLux still leads the pack in 2018

Early indications suggest the top sellers of 2018 will be the same as those in 2017. At the end of March, the Toyota HiLux was already leading the pack by quite a margin, selling 12,634 units nationwide. The Ford Ranger also retains second position, with 10,868 sales.

In addition to outselling every other vehicle overall, it’s worth noting that both the HiLux and Ranger’s year-on-year sales are continuing to climb. The 4x2 HiLux variant is up 13.9 per cent on 2017 and the 4x4 versions have sold 25.5 per cent more. Similarly, the Ranger’s 4x2 is up 2.5 per cent and its 4x4 variant is up 17.9 per cent year-on-year.

The Mazda3 was looking like the 2018 dark horse, selling 6136 units as of the end of February to pip the 2017 small car champion, the Toyota Corolla, by 90 units. But by the end of March the Corolla had won back the supremacy, selling 9264 to the Mazda3’s 8916.

Interestingly, however, the Corolla and Mazda3 have seen big year-on-year drops, 6.5 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively. It’s no coincidence that during this same period the small and medium SUV segments have continued to surge. Models such as the Mazda CX-5 (6604, up 10.6 per cent), Mitsubishi ASX (3599, 14.2 per cent), Nissan X-Trail (5794, 15 per cent) and the Toyota C-HR (2124, 193.8 per cent) could well challenge small cars for sales superiority in coming years.

This article was originally published the May/June 2018 issue of the Open Road magazine.

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