At Boost Auto we love data. It helps us make informed decisions, and sometimes challenges our perceptions. So, it was with some surprise that we noticed how many mild hybrids are being sold in New Zealand.
There is only one brand in New Zealand with a full range of hybrids, and that brand is Toyota. At the time of writing, it offers eight hybrids and one Plug in Hybrid (plus spoiler alert, it registered one hydrogen car in November). We all know that hybrids are not new, in fact the first-generation Prius was introduced a staggering 24 years ago.
However, Toyota cannot sell new Prius in volume (only 83 found homes in 2020) and bailed last year on Prius C, locally at least.
So, it was a surprise to see that Prius C is about to become NZ best-selling used vehicle (but named Aqua in the Japanese Domestic Market). In 2020 it was the second best-selling used import only 800 units behind the number one seller Mazda Axela (JDM name for Mazda3). It sold 5104 units to the Axela’s 5984, but as the graph shows, its rate of sales increased in the last 6 months of last year closing the gap. Honda Fit was #3 selling 4229 units. Our own research says that 60% of Fit were the hybrid version[i]. The ‘other’ Prius was #4 last year (3879 units).
All the top 4 used imports were either hybrid or available as hybrid. Yet this level of hybrid penetration is not reflected in new car sales.
The 12th best-selling used car last year was Nissan Leaf. Say what you want about the range of a 5–8-year-old Leaf, but it was 2% of all used imports last year. If that was reflected in new cars, then Nissan would have sold 1600 Leaf and Toyota would have sold 3600 Aqua. Instead, Nissan sold 142 new Leaf and Toyota 110 Aqua (or Prius C).
The used import market has always fascinated us at Boost Auto. There are very few global markets that have this distortion – it is one of the reasons why we sell so few new cars per capita compared with other developed nations, yet our car ownership is fourth highest in the world. We buy old cars and then hold on to them. It is also one of the reasons utes sell so well here – they suit our rural based economy, and you cannot buy them as used imports.
Clearly the perception of the type of import we are bringing in is, in this case at least, not quite right. We are not being used as the dumping ground as some of us would believe. In fact, consumers are demanding cleaner more fuel-efficient cars. If four out of the top five best sellers for used imports are either hybrid or available as hybrid,
then why isn’t the same reflected in new vehicle sales?
The answer is clear and two-fold.
Firstly, they are too expensive. At the bottom end of the market the incentiv
e is simply to save money. That incentive is working. When money is tighter, function and economy trumps style and performance.
Secondly in the new car market consumers prefer SUVs, and so we need to provide more choice. Just like Toyota does.
[i] Source: Boost Auto. We looked at the number of Honda Fit advertised on TradeMe, with a DOFR between 2012 AND 2014. There were 396 where the engine type were specified, listed as at 22 February 2021. 241 were Hybrid and 145 were petrol.
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