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New car sales in Canberra are running 21.8 per cent higher for the first nine months of this year compared with 2019 while most other states and territories are still languishing well below their previous numbers. September sales data revealed the ACT had still gained 3.4 per cent more new vehicle sales over the same month in 2019. The Northern Territory and Western Australia were the only jurisdictions which joined the ACT in positive growth during September. One of the damning industry numbers was that of Victoria, traditionally the second largest car market in the country and currently suffering the harsh economic effects wrought by its COVID-19 restrictions. During September, sales in Victoria had plummeted by 57.7 per cent on the same month last year. New car sales nationally are down by 21.8 per cent. Fed by the territory’s still-busy tradie market, the Ford Ranger 4WD was far and away the biggest-selling vehicle of any type in the ACT during September, outselling its Hilux equivalent by almost three to one. However, the Toyota is the stronger seller in two-wheel drive guise. The Mazda CX-5 was our best-selling SUV, just ahead of the Toyota RAV4 and the Subaru Forester. The Toyota Corolla was our best-selling passenger car, just nudging out the VW Golf, with the Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato and Mazda3 not far behind. Similarly, the Ford Ranger was the biggest selling vehicle nationally in September and it marks the first occasion in which the light commercial has managed to knock over its arch-rival, the Toyota Hilux, for the prime position. The Hilux was in second place, followed by the Toyota RAV4. However, some brands at the top end of town don’t seem to be feeling the COVID effects as much as others. Nationally, Porsche sales were up by 33 per cent in September, and Ferrari rose 8.7 per cent. What is visually revealing about the knock-on effects of the coronavirus on the car industry is the low number of new and used cars sitting on lots throughout the ACT although some brands, such as Subaru, are clearly worse affected than others. The factory supply lines out of Europe, South Korea, Japan and Thailand – Australia’s four key volume vehicle supply origins – have only just begun to start up after lengthy periods of either complete shutdown, or operating at low capacity. Getting shipments into the country have also proved problematic, given that the delivery times to customers have been pushed back weeks and in most cases, months. To date, electric car sales in Australia are not steamrolling ahead at the rate which their community profile or their supporter base would suggest. For the eight months to the end of August this year, there were 701 EV passenger cars sold nationally and 511 EV SUVs. Sales of EVs nationally are up by 15.6 per cent this year but but still only account for around 1225 of the country’s 624,00 passenger, SUV, and light commercial sales year to date. What the industry data doesn’t show however, is sales of Tesla EVs in Australia. The US manufacturer, although a member of the federal automotive industry group, doesn’t want to share its data with the public nor its rival members. Gangbuster sales worldwide of Toyota hybrid vehicles has forced the company to ramp up its battery production in Japan and China. Panasonic has been the primary supplier to date but now the two companies have entered into a joint venture called Prime Planet Energy and Solutions which will employ around 5000 people and potentially produce as many as 600,000 batteries a year. Since the oddball Prius arrived in 1997, Toyota has sold more than 15 million hybrid cars worldwide and now has more than 44 models, the latest offered here being the Yaris hybrid. Initiated back in April, Prime Planet is poised to be a key player in this constantly growing automotive business. Here in Australia, the hybrid RAV4 has steadily risen to be among the country’s best-selling new cars at a time when national demand is down around 20 per cent. In a corporate statement, Toyota said the joint venture “will develop highly competitive, cost-effective batteries that are safe and feature excellent quality and performance (in terms of capacity, output, durability, etc), enabling use with peace of mind by all customers.” “Furthermore, the joint venture will supply batteries not only to Toyota but also, broadly and stably, to all customers.” The interesting take on this is that Toyota’s automotive technology path now appears more than ever to be veering away from those taken of other major global companies like VW-Audi, Nissan-Renault, Ford and General Motors. Like Honda and Hyundai, Toyota is still clearly heavily committed to hydrogen as the “end game” fuel and sees hybrid as the interim solution, rather than committing wholeheartedly to electrification as have many of its rivals. One of two very interesting recent rollouts this year from the global car giant have been a Toyota-Hino fuel cell heavy haulage truck developed out of the company’s US operation. The hydrogen truck is based on an existing Hino chassis and is designed to fit the US Class 8 designation, which are any “tractor trailers” (as the Americans call them) with a gross vehicle weight rating over 14.9 tonnes. The heavy hauler is still in the development stage but Toyota already has significant knowhow in this space and it shouldn’t take long to nail it. The other is a joint venture with Honda on a mobile charging station which uses hydrogen as its power source. It’s basically a fuel cell bus reconfigured to carry a large supply of onboard hydrogen. If there is a power outage, the bus drives to a key location and starts generating back-up power until the problem is fixed. The bus can push out a very impressive 454kWh at a maximum output of 18kW, can be deployed up to 100km from a refuelling station, and is seen as an ideal stable power supply source for situations such as evacuation centres. It can also act as a recharging station for dozens of portable power battery packs which can go out to houses. It’s a part of our road infrastructure that’s rarely even thought about unless you’re riding a motorcycle, in which case it’s just one of many hazards to contend with on a wet day. However, road markings are now becoming an important part of how our most recent and future vehicles, some of which already have semi-autonomous capabilities, provide auto-steer capabilities. A recent research report by Austroads, which guides transport policy for Australia, looked at how the design and maintenance of road markings can impact the performance of advanced driver assistance systems and automated vehicles. While it’s recognised that the road to full vehicle automation is a long and legally rocky one, there are already many cars with driver assistance systems with machine vision which depend on monitoring the centre road markings, as well as those on the kerbs and shoulders, to keep vehicles safely in their lanes. The report’s authors have called for consistency of markings across the states and territories, more shoulder markings particularly on rural roads, proper design principles and good maintenance standards to ensure we all stay on the straight and narrow. And as for the poor motorcyclists; you’re on your own.