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Australian car sales figures hit a rough patch

The Australian car market has hit choppy waters after the release of last month's numbers.

According to statistics released by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), new car sales decreased 5.5 per cent in August 2014, compared to the same period last year. Just 88,157 new cars were sold - down from 93,336 in 2013.

While the last couple of months have driven figures in the right direction, this latest setback has put the car market behind by close to 20,000 units on the first eight months of 2013.

FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber explained that while some individual statistics improved, they were often let down by other categories.

"SUVs and light commercial vehicles were a popular choice for private buyers in August, with private purchases in these segments rising 5.6 and 8.9 per cent, respectively; compared to August 2013," he said.

"Private purchases of passenger cars, however, fell 15.7 per cent."

State by state growth

In stark contrast to previous months, all states and territories saw sales figures decrease. By comparison, NSW (-2.8 per cent) was one of the 'better' results.

According to FCAI, the Northern Territory (-16.5 per cent), Western Australia (-10.2 per cent) and Queensland (-10.1 per cent) experienced the greatest reduction in sales.

Toyota dominates August - continuing trend

The FCAI data highlights Toyota's clear dominance in the overall Australian car market. For the sixth month in a row, the Toyota Corolla (3,247 sales) led all other models. This was followed by the Mazda 3 (3,124), Toyota Hilux (2,918) and the Hyundai i30 (2,651).

Toyota also remained Australia's most popular brand, continuing its control of the overall market share. With a total of 17.7 per cent share, the manufacturer is well ahead of Holden and Hyundai (each 9.8 per cent), Mazda (8.5 per cent) and Ford (7.8 per cent).

While these figures don't change dramatically month to month, it is clear that popularity and reputation still stand strong in the industry.

Was this predicted?

Based on the results of a Roy Morgan poll, the writing was already on the wall for August's car sales mid-month. According to the data, over the last two months, the number of new buyers in the market has decreased 13 per cent.

The poll indicated that this figure was as high as 2.5 million in May - however, it has now reduced to 2.17 million which is the lowest result since November 2012.

With close to 300,000 people leaving the market, this could have a massive impact on the country's automotive industry. If the average new car buyer spends $34,500 on their next car, that represents a $10.4 billion loss to the sector. After the departure of some manufacturers, this is not a good omen.

Industry Director of Automotive at Roy Morgan Research, Jordan Pakes, said the poll is a reflection of public perception.

"The recent decrease in car-buying intention coincides with a strong decline in consumer and business confidence since the May federal budget announcement," he explained.

"The main factor influencing this decline in consumer confidence is a growing proportion of Australians who expect to be worse off this time next year."

Mr Pakes stated there could be other reasons for consumers to suddenly go off wanting to purchase a new vehicle.

"In addition to the local economic issues worrying many Australians, there have also been a number of major international events such as the unstable situation in the Ukraine (resulting in the downing of MH17) that are also adversely impacting on consumer certainty," he said.

While this poll and FCAI's statistics don't make for positive reading, industry authorities hope the changing season could prompt some buyers out of their winter hibernation.