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THE battle for the hearts and minds of Australian new-car buyers is turning into a contest between three widely different types of vehicle – small cars, medium SUVs and one-tonne pick-ups.

Small hatchbacks and sedans such as the Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 have dominated the Australian new-car scene since the traditional Australian large cars such as the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon started to slide around the turn of the century.

At one point, the small-car segment accounted for about a quarter of all cars sold in Australia, peaking in 2013 at 260,820 units.

Market Insight – Vehicle Supremacy – Click to enlarge

But creeping up behind these small cars have been a couple of interlopers in the shape of SUVs and utes.

As it has been well documented, SUVs have become the family car of choice, not just in Australia but around the world, thanks to their flexibility, high seating position and other assets.

But while small SUVs have run out of some steam of late and large SUVs seem to have plateaued, medium SUVs such as the Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi Outlander, Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson are continuing their upward trend.

This year, medium SUV sales are up 16.4 per cent – one of the biggest gains of any segment. June sales in particular put medium SUVs right to the fore, with a record 21,998 such vehicles finding homes in a single month.

Record breaker: Hyundai’s Tucson achieved record sales in June, helping the medium SUV towards market dominance.

While the popular Mazda CX-5 is still the segment leader so far this year, Hyundai’s Tucson made a big lunge in June, with a segment-record 3741 sales for the month on the back of large incentives.

They are now separated by fewer than 100 units – 12,924 for the Mazda and 12,836 to the Hyundai – after the first half of 2017.

Toyota’s RAV4 also returned record sales in June (2460) to bring its six-month tally to 10,811.

While private buyers are finding showroom joy in medium SUVs, tradies, farmers and business owners are homing in on the other big winner of late – one-tonne pick-ups.

Toyota Corolla

The segment-leading Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger were the top-selling vehicles in Australia in June, both attracting more than 5000 sales for the first time.

Along with fine sales performances by other one-tonners such as the Mitsubishi Triton and Holden Colorado, these light trucks have driven segment sales to a record 24,892 units in June – a tick behind small cars’ 24,993 sales.

The big pick-up growth has all been in the 4×4 variety, sales of which have grown 9.5 per cent as thousands of Australians discover the delights of using their ute at work during the week and then heading bush, beach or hardware store on the weekend.

Mazda CX-5

The 4×2 workhorses that once dominated the segment have gradually withered over the past decade, and they are down again this year by 8.1 per cent, accounting for only about a quarter of ute sales.

However, if the 4×4 ute trend continues through the remaining six months of this year, we could see pick-up sales edging past 200,000 units for the first time, up from the 190,768 sold in 2016.

Of course, an economic chill could put paid to that scenario, as business buyers could keep their wallets firmly in their pockets.

However, if the current benign business conditions continue, utes, medium SUVs and small-car sales could converge late this year or next year.

Combined, the three segments already account for about half of all Australia new-vehicles sales … and growing.

By Ron Hammerrton

Ford Ranger

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