BUYERS thronged car showrooms last weekend as COE premiums slid and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) unveiled a new way of listing new-car registrations, which showed Toyota and Mercedes-Benz leading the pack of most popular brands here.
Toyota surged ahead in the first six months of 2015 to widen its lead as Singapore's favourite brand. From January to June, 5,299 new Toyotas were registered, said the Land Transport Authority (see table); this number includes both official and parallel imported models.
Mercedes-Benz was behind with 3,137 units, followed by Honda (2,795) and Mazda (2,287). Nissan (2,270) rounded up the top five in H1 2015.
More interestingly, BMW moved up one position from Q1 2015 to No 6 with 1,737 units. This was Singapore's No 3 brand in 2014, behind No 1 Toyota and No 2 Mercedes-Benz. But since the start of this year, its performance has significantly lagged Mercedes, its traditional rival.
In the year to date, 25,797 private passenger cars have been registered. The LTA now breaks down the data by body style - sedan/hatchback, multi-purpose vehicle (MPV)/station wagon, sport-utility vehicle (SUV), and coupe/convertible.
These four categories now provide more information about the type of cars being registered.
Previously, the available statistics showed breakdown by model, which showed exactly the model and engine size.
But following Mercedes-Benz's refusal about two years ago to allow dissemination of such information on anti-trust concerns, this information was not released. Taking Mercedes-Benz's cue, brands such as BMW, Audi and Volkswagen also withdrew their consent.
As a result, some of the top model numbers based on authorised distributors' sales are estimates.
In H1 2015, the Toyota Corolla Altis was the Republic's favourite model, with 2,104 units after a huge boost in June registrations.
The Mazda3 was the runner-up with 1,235 units, while the Mercedes-Benz E-Class executive sedan was third with an estimated 900 units from authorised dealer Cycle & Carriage. (The smaller Mercedes-Benz C-Class is sixth with about 750 units.)
In fourth place was the Nissan Sylphy with 838 units, followed closely by the Nissan Qashqai with 835.
The Qashqai SUV's continued success has been attributed to distributor Tan Chong Motor Sales' successful strategy to woo sedan buyers with a similarly-priced crossover model with more space; Tan Chong said many Qashqai buyers are "conquest sales" from other brands.
And it looks like there may be more.
Over the weekend, the Leng Kee and Alexandra auto showrooms were so busy that car parks were full, and cars spilled onto the main road.
This was after COE premiums fell a week ago. Category A for so-called small cars shed S$2,811 to S$55,889, while Cat B for big cars and Cat E the open category slumped S$7,392 and S$8,900 to S$58,109 and S$60,101 respectively.
At the Toyota showroom along Leng Kee Road, enquiries jumped by nearly 50 per cent, which translated into double the usual number of orders taken.
A sales executive said: "We were expecting the crowds to come in and they did. Both Cat A and B models were popular, but Cat B was particularly in demand because of the significant drop in the COE premium."
Across the road at Honda, "response was better than usual'', said its general manager Nicholas Wong.
"Showroom traffic was at least 50 per cent higher,'' he said, but declined to give exact numbers.
The sales manager at another Japanese dealership nearby said those in the "packed'' showrooms were buying, not browsing.
"We are selling like hot cakes. I'm sure premiums will jump at the next COE bidding."
Showroom activity at Mercedes-Benz also improved by at least 30 per cent, with orders understood to have also risen by about that amount.
Over at the Mitsubishi showroom on Alexandra Road, traffic was up 20 to 30 per cent, while orders rose by about 20 per cent.
At Mazda, there was even a queue for test drives. The Japanese brand, which has been charging up the sales charts since the franchise moved over to the Eurokars Group in November 2011, registered an estimated 50 per cent increase in orders.
"It was like a fish market,'' said a sales manager with a laugh.