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Japanese brands power up car sales chart

Bread-and-butter models back in favour as Category A replacement buyers fuel boom in demand for Japanese cars

STILL NO 1: Toyota stays on top with its 19.3% market share.


THE Republic's four most popular car brands remained secure in their positions after the first nine months of 2014 but the rest of the Top 10 experienced a shake-up as the Japanese makes powered up the sales chart on replacement fever.

Also interesting is the fact that new car registrations have expanded significantly - up 17.7 per cent compared with the same period last year - after shrinking steadily for over three years.

Year-to-date registrations are 20,124 passenger cars, and the full-year industry volume could top 29,000. This will be an improvement after 2013's 22,472 registrations - the lowest since the certificate of entitlement (COE) system began in 1990 although it is close to 1997's 22,881 registrations.

From January to September 2014, Toyota stays at the top of the table with 3,881 cars (see table), according to the Land Transport Authority (LTA).

This figure includes both authorised and parallel imports, and Toyota's 19.3 per cent market share means about one in every five cars registered here so far this year was made by Japan's biggest carmaker.

Toyota overtook Mercedes- Benz (which was No 1 in the first quarter this year) by the end of Q2. The German luxury brand - which was Singapore's top make in 2013 - is now runner-up with 3,418 units (with a 17 per cent market share).

It is more than 800 cars ahead of its traditional rival, BMW, which has 2,579 registrations (12.8 per cent). BMW was the top brand in 2011 and 2012.

But it is below fourth-placed Volkswagen where the more exciting moves were made by the Japanese in the third quarter.

Nissan and Mazda have moved up one position each to park immediately behind VW, displacing former No 5 Audi, which is now No 7.

And Honda has jumped two places to land in No 8, after pushing down both Hyundai and Volvo one notch each.

These three Japanese mainstream brands had languished at the bottom of the sales charts between 2011 and 2013 as COE premiums skyrocketed amid shrinking quotas. But their fortunes are picking up now that owners of ageing vehicles are looking to replace them.

Tan Chong's low prices for its Category A Nissan models have proved particularly popular among people looking for a spacious small car, while the Mazda3 Sedan's attractive styling and pricing have boosted authorised distributor Trans Eurokars' volumes.

Over at Kah Motor, recent good sales are being driven by demand for the Odyssey MPV, as well as the City sedan and Jazz hatchback.

The boom for the Japanese brands is mostly fuelled by replacement buyers who are trading in their ageing Cat A rides. Such owners had been holding on to their cars, which were often 8-9 years old, in the hope that COE premiums would soften.

These buyers are not likely to be luxury car or Cat B car buyers because those who can afford more expensive models would likely have replaced their existing vehicles a few years ago.

"This group of buyers we are seeing these days are more practical and more conservative," said the sales manager of a Japanese dealership. "With their thrifty, more prudent profile, it is no surprise that they are changing cars only because they can wait no longer. But we are happy because it means our bread-and- butter models are back in favour."