Do you remember a time, long ago, when buying a new car was a rare and special event?
In 1963, my parents, dairy farmers in the verdant hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, decided to take the plunge and buy a new car.
This was a major spending decision for Mum and Dad – huge in fact. They came from the old school.
They had both grown up during the Great Depression and Dad had been a prisoner of war in Changi. Although World War II had finished 18 years before, frugality was ingrained in the fabric of their being.
Mum saved buttons, brown paper and string, and turned Dad’s worn out trousers into shorts for my older brothers.
Dad grew vegetables and every year at Christmas time, he bought a solitary bottle of lemon cordial for us kids and one bottle of beer (a tall neck) for himself and Mum.
They never borrowed a cent – or a penny, I should say, as these were pre-decimal currency days.
Money was hard earned and carefully saved for a rainy day. Spending decisions were made cautiously – and they always paid cash.
So when the day came for Dad to go to town to buy the new car, there was great excitement in the household. As Dad was leaving, he turned to Mum and asked what sort of car she would like.
Although I was only six, this seemed like a particularly silly question to me. We all knew Mum could not drive.
She had given up driving when we moved from the plains of western Queensland to the mountains of Montville, so what difference would it make to Mum?
“Anything but blue”, Mum replied, and her beautiful blue eyes sparkled with anticipation.
Dad returned later that day, sitting tall behind the wheel of a brand new and very blue Ford Zephyr 6 mk 111 sedan.
Okay, it had a white hood and grey interior, but it was powder blue! Bermuda blue, to be precise.
Fast forward to 2015 and how times have changed!
Buying a new car is now a routine matter if the sales figures are any guide.
In the first three quarters of this calendar year, 862,832 vehicles were sold, an increase of 110,000 over the same period in 2011.
That’s a lot of new cars in a country with a population of just 23.5 million people.
For the month of September alone, Australian dealers sold 101,392 vehicles, up from 94,978 for the same period last year.
But for reasons perhaps only an economist could answer, sales were very strong in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and weak in the rest of the country.
Not surprisingly, sales of SUVs continue to account for the biggest chunk of growth with 36,968 units sold in September, an impressive increase of 23 per cent.
Sales of ordinary passenger vehicles remained stable at 36,968 units and light commercials dropped by 9 per cent to 15,476.
Although Toyota sales dropped by 7 per cent in September, it is still the market leader (16,594), a country mile ahead of Mazda (10,864), Holden (9326) and Hyundai (9311), Mitsubishi (6937), Ford (5823), Nissan (5242), Volkswagen (5124), Subaru (3621) and Honda (3595).
Not to be outdone, luxury car sales also surged in September, led by Mercedes-Benz (3381), BMW (2408), Audi (2048), Porsche (487) and Volvo (449).
News was not so good for the Fiat Chrysler Australia conglomerate. Sales of Jeep, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Dodge and Chrysler dropped substantially in September. Citroen and Renault also fell from favour.
So what’s driving the spike in new car sales?
The $20,000 tax incentive offered to small businesses in the last Federal Budget must have something to do with it, particularly with SUVs. But market analysts insist that the major driver is low interest rates.
It seems that when money is cheap, new cars are high on the spending agenda of many Australians.
But that is not the end of the story. Most new cars are sold as replacement vehicles, which means there will be an influx of new entrants into the used car market.
More particularly, if you are in the market for your dream car, booming luxury car sales suggest that there will be plenty of used Porsches, Mercs and BMWs around too.
Buying a used car is a good way of avoiding Luxury Car Tax.
If you are thinking of buying a new car, take a good look at the last six months’ sales figures. They can be quite revealing.
As a rule of thumb, popular new cars become popular used cars, so if resale value is important to you – and of course it is – check the sales figures for what’s hot and what’s not.
The blue Zephyr Dad brought home that day in 1963 had a long and happy life on the farm. It was replaced eventually with a Ford Cortina, also powder blue, though Dad did not repeat his mistake by asking Mum again what sort of car she would like.
Top ten models September 2015:
1. Hyundai i30 — 4490 vehicles sold, 5170 if you include the Elantra sedan
2. Mazda 3 — 3588
3. Toyota Corolla — 3530
4. Toyota Camry — 2522
5. Ford Ranger — 2471
6. Holden Commodore — 2348 or 2710 if you include the ute
7. Mazda CX-5 — 2321
8. Mitsubishi Triton — 2020
9. Toyota Hilux — 2001
10. Volkswagen Golf — 1958