The multi-year decline in Australian new car sales snowballed in April, as the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic caused overall sales to halve, and passenger vehicle sales to slump by 61 per cent, even as electric and hybrid sales showed some resilience,
According to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, new car sales across the entire industry saw a 48.5% drop in April compared to the same period in 2019, the largest single fall in car sales since 1991. The drop follows a sustained drop in sales of petrol and diesel vehicles in all segments over the past 24 months,
The only silver lining for the industry – and the climate, which before the Covid-19 pandemic had captured the attention of the public and the media as a result of the summer bushfires – has been electric vehicle sales.
According to the latest figures from Vfacts, collated for the FCAI, sales of electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and non-pluggable continue to buck the trend in an otherwise depressed industry.
As FCAI chief Tony Weber notes, consumer confidence is way down as more than 1 million Australians are left without income since mid-March due to stay-at-home measures to contain the pandemic, according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics on Tuesday.
“Clearly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major influence on the April sales result, and reflects a downturn in the broader economy right across the country,” Weber said.
“These conditions inevitably impact consumer confidence and purchase decisions.”
Notably though, for electrified vehicles – which are on balance more expensive than petrol and diesel equivalents due to the cost of batteries – sales are still on the increase in both the private and passenger sector (for all-electric vehicles this is from a small base of 6,718 sold in 2019, a tripling from the year before).
Pluggable electrified cars (which includes 100% EVs and PHEVs) saw a 24.4% increase in the private passenger sector, and a whopping 131% increase in the commercial passenger sector.
Electric SUV sales rose in the private sector, but following a trend we saw in March saw a drop in the commercial sector. It is unclear at this time if this has been a supply issue as car makers consider a halt on imports until more clarity is known on the fate of the Australian dollar.
Hybrids, of the “self-charging” variety, also fared well, with hybrid SUV sales continuing to go through the roof, with more than 1,000% increases compared to April 2019 – a trend that we first saw when Toyota’s RAV4 hybrid sales outstripped its 100% petrol counterpart when it was first introduced in May 2019.
On the Tesla front, it would appear that any deliveries made in April have only been from previously shipped stock. While Tesla is a member of the FCAI, it is alone in not reporting its local sales figures to Vfacts, and poor reporting methods from state registries only compound the issue.
While we have reported previously that Tesla sales have greatly ballooned reported Vfacts figures, sources report that there have not been any Tesla vehicles shipped to Australia for the past twelve weeks, with 1,107 Tesla cars produced in 2020 for Australia in total to date and only one vehicle is currently destined for Australia from Californian ports.
There is hope that Tesla’s Fremont factory, which has been closed since March on government Covid-19 orders to “shelter-in-place”, may soon see a light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a reopening, as California begins to ease some restrictions allowing some shops to open starting Friday.
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Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.