Australian new-car sales figures for March 2021 show a return to normalcy for the industry, however the biggest shock might be the huge uptake of electric cars.
March 2021 brought with it some dire one-year anniversaries for Australia. On 1 March last year, Australia reported its first COVID-related death; by the end of the month, its international and interstate borders had been closed and lockdowns introduced.
Despite major local and global economic uncertainty, Australian new-car sales data released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) for March 2020 showed a modest drop of just 17.9 per cent. Alas, the penny dropped the following month, with sales plummeting 48.5 per cent in April.
Fulfilling age-old consumer psychology, buyers turned to what they know and trust in uncertain times. What were these in March 2020? Fossil fuels and Toyota, it appears.
Battery electric vehicle (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicle (PHEV) sales fell 38.5 per cent last March, significantly more than the industry average. However, petrol-hybrid vehicles grew a whopping 300 per cent, largely due to deliveries of the wildly-popular Toyota RAV4 hybrid.
So now, a year on from the start of an economic situation the modern world had never seen the likes of, how does the Australian car industry landscape look?
EV sales increased almost seven-fold of the market average
You read that right. In March 2021, Australians purchased 411 all-electric new cars, up 151.2 per cent year-on-year from 248 in 2020. Overall, the new-car market averaged growth of 22.4 per cent (100,005 sales, up from 81,690).
Although a small volume, these numbers denote a positive trend in Australia’s adoption of electrified vehicles. More importantly, they signify the electric car has survived COVID-19, as more Australians demonstrate trust in the technology in the wake of unparalleled social and economic uncertainty.
Above: MG ZS EV, Australia's cheapest electric car
The numbers are encouraging across other electrified powertrains too, with hybrid vehicle sales rising 41.4 per cent and PHEVs up 101.4 per cent across passenger and SUV segments. Slow but steady, these amount to a 7.2 per cent new-car market share for electrified vehicles in Australia, up 1.2 per cent from March 2020.
Important to note is US electric car giant Tesla does not supply sales data to the FCAI, so it’s plausible Australia’s all-electric car uptake in March could’ve been even greater than these figures suggest.
What was Australia’s best-selling electric car?
The FCAI does not break down sales among different powertrains of the same nameplate, meaning figures for Australia’s cheapest electric car, the MG ZS EV, are unavailable despite the MG ZS (which is also available with internal combustion engines) topping the small SUV <$40k segment with 1510 sales.
However, in what might be the most surprising twist of March’s new-car sales figures, the all-electric Porsche Taycan (pictured top of story) dominated the <$70k large car segment (with 161 sold), beating long-time segment winners BMW 5 Series (31) and Mercedes-Benz E-Class (155).
The Taycan’s sales are likely due to March being its first full month of sale, with 51 examples of the electric grand tourer moving in February. However, if future sales do wane, it may not be due to lack of orders:
“We don’t have supply to sustain sales numbers [of the Taycan] at the level seen in March,” Porsche Australia told the NRMA. “Interest and demand has been very strong.”
Another spike in Taycan sales may come later this year, when Porsche launches the Taycan Cross Turismo in the third quarter.
Also contributing to the numbers were Audi’s e-tron and Mercedes-Benz’s EQC SUVs, with 14 examples of each being snapped up, while four Jaguar’s I-Paces found new homes.