It's Not Just Europe, Australians Don't Want American Cars Either

You might remember a few months back Donald Trump complained that Europeans don’t buy enough American cars. A couple of weeks ago, in the midst of trade war talks, an op-ed was published by Top Gear outlining why Europeans don’t buy American cars. Us Aussies don’t want them either. Our tastes are actually very different

There aren’t a great deal of American cars sold in Australia, and no manufacturer relies entirely on them. Ford, Holden, Fiat-Chrysler, Toyota and Nissan all have US-built models in their respective line-ups. Among the top 10 new vehicles sold in Australia last year, not one was American. The Ford Mustang was the only American car to lead it’s segment, with 9165 sold, well ahead of the second-placed Toyota 86 with 1935 sales. The highest selling American-built vehicle in Australia was the Toyota Kluger (Highlander). 12,509 units were shifted, placing it second in the large SUV segment, behind the Toyota LandCruiser Prado. Most people wouldn’t even be aware that the Kluger is built in Indiana. No other American car featured anywhere near the top of their respective segments. Even the Chrysler 300 couldn’t make the top five in large cars under $70k, a segment with limited competition. It was even beaten by the Ford Falcon, despite no Falcons being built in 2017. They couldn’t even sell the 300 SRT to the Police as a highway patrol car in absence of the Commodore SS and Falcon XR6 Turbo. The BMW 530d got the job instead. Holden recently released the Equinox in Australia. Until the Acadia arrives later this year, it’s the only US-sourced model in Holden’s range. If early reviews are anything to go by, it doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of the Mazda CX-5, and won’t be much of a success.

Many of the quintessential American cars, and especially American pickups, are simply too big for our roads. The ones that aren’t, like the Ford Focus and Toyota Camry aren’t really American at all. The only thing American about the former is the badge. Our parking spaces and driveways are designed around two different passenger car turning templates, B85 and B99. The B85 has dimensions that make it less manoeuvrable than 85 percent of the cars on Australian roads. It’s more or less an amalgam of Falcon and Commodore. The B99 is roughly the size of an S Class or Holden Caprice. Broadly speaking our infrastructure wasn’t designed to accommodate massive American pickups and SUVs. Ford offered F250 and F350 in Australia for a short period but sales were too low to justify offering the second generation Super Duty in right hand drive. Holden sold the gargantuan Suburban in the late 1990s but hardly anyone bought them. These days Walkinshaw holds the exclusive Australian import and RHD conversion rights to both the Chevrolet Silverado and Ram Trucks. They sell them for over $100k each to the handful of people who actually need them.

Other American cars struggle to be taken seriously. The Chrysler 300 is a decent car, but has been outsold by everything you could consider a direct rival. Its bold styling is off-putting in what is one of the most conservative market segments in Australia and there’s nothing it does better than a Holden Calais or Caprice for the same price. Maybe with the Caprice gone the 300 can attract more buyers. Over it’s 13 year tenure, the 300 has been a success when compared to the Hummer H3. Holden imported right hand drive H3s from the US between 2006 and 2009, but sold less than 2000 of them. This is partly because it was objectively terrible, but also partly because it was seen as a joke. 4WD enthusiasts are fiercely brand-loyal, so Holden was always going to have a hard time tempting buyers out of established models like the Nissan Pathfinder, Mitsubishi Pajero and Toyota Prado. It didn’t help that the H3 lacked a diesel engine and had a towing capacity lower than any SUV you could name, never mind any other 4WD. It was viewed as a poser’s car. It wasn’t the real thing, nor was it civilised enough for SUV buyers. It was basically a rebodied Rodeo with an extra half a tonne of mass and tiny windows and drove accordingly.

Jeeps tend to come in and out of fashion. They have a habit of releasing models that are popular early on, but don’t hold their showroom appeal once the novelty wears off, something better comes along or reliability concerns arise. In the early 2000s, they became very popular. When the Ford Territory arrived, Jeep Cherokee (and Ford Explorer) sales, already below those of the Mitsubishi Pajero, dropped off. When the massively improved current model Grand Cherokee was released, people started buying Jeeps again. Then Jeep, along with every other FCA product, quickly earned a reputation for building lemons.

Even when the Americans are selling more conventional cars, they tend to flop in Australia. Poor build quality is largely to blame. Until recently the lack of diesel engine options in 4WDs didn’t help either. The Chrysler Neon and Sebring, every Dodge, and every pre-2011 Jeep has been burdened by interior plastics far worse than the competition. The Holden Malibu was a much better car than it’s Chrysler compatriots, but still relied on low prices and sold in meagre volumes. Even when they got the perceived quality sorted out, FCA models were still plagued by recalls. Making matters, worse, a lemon Jeep Cherokee was destroyed by it’s owner in a video that went viral.

Poor quality isn’t the only issue. Americans seem to have fundamentally different tastes to Australians. Well made, Japanese and Korean cars pitched at the American market have failed to make an impact on Australia. The Honda Accord, Nissan Maxima, Murano and Altima, Hyundai i45 and Lexus ES are a few examples. Most Australians aren’t interested in soft suspension, chrome grilles, grey interiors and fake wood. Cars that hardly figure in the US, like the Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat and Subaru Liberty (Legacy), do much better in Australia. Despite having less than 10 percent of the population, we buy more Mazdas than America does. The Toyota Camry is the biggest selling midsize sedan both here and in the US, but don’t expect it to stay that way. Camry sales in Australia were propped up by fleets, buying them at heavily discounted prices offered by Toyota in a desperate attempt to keep to keep the Melbourne factory open. The 2018 model costs just as much as it’s rivals, so is unlikely to enjoy the sales dominance of its predecessors.

If American car makers want to sell cars in Australia, they need to make them smaller and sportier, with better perceived quality, less chrome and more understated, better proportioned styling. Consider this. The Holden sourced Pontiac GTO and G8, and the Chevy SS looked boring to American tastes, but they were well received in Australia. The Yank-focussed Mitsubishi ASX (why they named a car after the Australian Securities Exchange is beyond me) and Outlander are… outlandish to Australian eyes. The American cars that would actually appeal to Australians (Mustang excepted) are the Chevrolet Camaro and Corvette, Dodge Challenger, and Cadillac ATS and CTS. Cadillac would have a hard time competing directly with the Germans, however. Jaguar-Land Rover, Lexus, Alfa Romeo and Maserati have had a hard time competing with BMW, Mercedes and Audi. You’ll rarely spot an Infiniti in Australia. It’s hard to see Cadillac doing any better.

If American car manufacturers can’t succeed in Australia, what hope do they have for Europe? Instead of blaming Europe for not buying American cars, Trump should point the finger at GM and Chrysler for not making cars the rest of the world wants to buy.



Blade noir

It’s all Fair Dinkum what you’re mentioning. I agree that Murican car manufacturers/companies could potentially do well in Australia if they did better research and fulfilled our criteria.
It’s quite a niché to be an Amurican (Deliberately spelt wrong) pick-up truck owner in Straya, only to see a few hauling horse trailers and massive caravans.

Recently, I found out that holden will be selling imported Camaros which are converted to right-hand drive. To be honest, I dream of owning a Murican car; either the 300SRT8 or the Challenger.

03/16/2018 - 12:07 |
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Blade noir

It would be publicly humiliating to drive a H3 Hummer honestly. RIP H3 owners.

03/16/2018 - 12:09 |
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Doesn’t help that every H3 has massive chrome wheels.

03/16/2018 - 12:22 |
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Danny S

So basically, American cars don’t sell well here because, unlike Americans, Aussies don’t get in a car, say “ooo pretty” and just buy it..?

03/16/2018 - 12:30 |
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Deadpool (Cam's much sexier twin) (Official Demon Fangirl)

Nicely written, here’s a tip though, trump’s a moron, as an American you have to choose between what he says as pandering bs and what haunting idea he proposes that he actually believes in. Tbh, I forgot all about his Germans won’t buy American cars thing.

03/16/2018 - 13:47 |
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Agreed. It’s not a trade-barrier problem, it’s that American manufacturers seem to think that they’re the center of everything and only build cars that cater to their own population.

03/16/2018 - 21:04 |
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Nameless Ghoul

Where I live (Jakarta), the best selling car with an American badge is the Fiesta. And even that’s the work of the European subsidiary, as far as I know. The Chevrolets that are sold here are actually Chinese Daewoos. The only true American car that sells quite nicely is the Jeep Wrangler and Ford Ranger, and even they don’t appear that often. They’re too massive for such a densely populated city, and fuel consumption won’t last long in Jakarta’s notorious traffic.

American cars are often too outlandish to work elsewhere. “Bigger means better”, and that shows, not just in terms of body size, but also engine. Where else in this world would a V10 dually pickup truck the size of a small-semi and a fleet of V8 taxis makes sense? Then build quality, and design… I could make another article if I go on..

03/16/2018 - 21:44 |
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As far as I’m aware, every Chevy not sold in the Americas is a Korean Daewoo now.

The Ford Ranger has an American badge, but it was developed in Australia and built in Thailand

03/16/2018 - 23:09 |
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Pipi Ferry

Mistake? - Trump complained that Europeans don’t buy enough European cars.

Anyway great post. Very interesting read.

03/17/2018 - 09:23 |
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Jia the Supra Fanboy

There’s nothing understated about Audis, BMWs and Mercs. Why are they doing well then? Isn’t it just basic brand bias at work, instead of any underlying qualities?

03/19/2018 - 04:31 |
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They are relative to a lot of American cars. American cars also tend to be afflicted with sloppy handling and flimsy build quality. The fact that sticking Nissan, Honda, Holden or Lexus badges on an American or US-focused car does little to improve sales suggests it is underlining qualities, not brand perception

03/19/2018 - 06:54 |
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