TOYOTA NEW ZEALAND
No surprise here, but it still has to be said: Toyota continues to utterly dominate the New Zealand new-vehicle market. The Japanese brand was top in 2013 for the 26th consecutive year, with a 19.6 per cent share of the market. Second-placed Ford has closed the gap a little, but it's still a really big gap: the Blue Oval achieved an 11 per cent share.
It was a booming year for the Kiwi new-vehicle market overall, with 113,117 registrations, a 12.2 per cent increase over 2012. Commercials were particularly strong (level with small cars as the most popular vehicle type) and enjoyed their highest December ever.
Toyota had the model range to take advantage of this sales dynamic. Still, the evergreen Hilux came under intense pressure from the Ford Ranger for the top light commercial sales spot and indeed, the Blue Oval almost made history by ending three decades of Hilux supremacy.
But Toyota triumphed in the end, albeit by the slimmest of margins: 5041 registrations, compared with 4924 for the Ranger.
Hilux was also the second-best-selling model of any type for 2013. The first? Toyota Corolla of course.
GLASS CEILING SMASHERS
Admittedly, the glass ceilings at car companies are made of strong stuff. But here's some progress: in December came an announcement that Mary Barra would take over as chief executive officer of General Motors, the first female boss of a major carmaker.
GM is also now the biggest company in America to have a woman in its top job. Former chief executive Dan Akerson did leave Barra with quite a to-do list. As 2013 drew to a close he said GM would withdraw the Chevrolet brand from Europe in 2016 and shut down Australian manufacturing in 2018. Onward and upward.
FANS OF ICONIC SPORTS CARS
Two legendary super-sports car brands were launched in New Zealand in 2013.
The Giltrap Group brought McLaren home to Auckland with a new distributorship and showroom in Grey Lynn, the 50th outlet for the brand in the 50th anniversary year of McLaren.
It's also the ninth in the Asia Pacific region, as McLaren establishes a global footprint for its burgeoning range of cars.few years, but Australasian importer Ateco Automotive reckoned the future was bright enough to launch a new showroom in Auckland last year. The new facility in Newmarket is selling the Elise, Exige and Evora.
Volkswagen really cleaned up this year with its seventh-generation Golf. It picked up a plethora of local awards, including Driven Car of the Year and New Zealand Car of the Year (from a panel of Motoring Writers' Guild members, including Driven journalists, and the AA), as well as some major international ones - European Car of the Year and Japan Car of the Year.
It was the first time that the latter award has gone to a non-Japanese brand.
AUSTRALIAN CAR INDUSTRY
So much has been said on this subject already, but 2013 will be remembered as the year that Ford and Holden called time on Australian manufacturing.
In May, Ford said it would cease Australian manufacturing operations in 2016. Holden was bullish about its future Australian-built models at the time: it had to be, as it was busy launching the VF Commodore.
In December Holden said its Australian manufacturing would end by 2017. That just leaves Toyota making cars in Australia. At present it is struggling to make a business
case to build the next-generation Camry from 2018.
Mitsubishi ceased production across the Tasman in 2008, while Nissan Australia closed its factory doors back in 1992.
SIME DARBY AUTOMOBILES NEW ZEALAND
Sime Darby Automobiles (SDA) New Zealand lost three brands last year.
The launch of Fiat Chrysler New Zealand in May signalled the end of a long struggle by SDA to hold on to the Chrysler Jeep Dodge (CJD) distributorship it had held since 2009.
Fiat Chrysler head office is on a mission to unite distributorships for its various brands around the world. For SDA, the ideal scenario would have been to pick up Fiat and Alfa Romeo from existing distributor Ateco Automotive, to join its CJD operation.
That was not to be. In February, the announcement came that CJD would leave Sime Darby and join the Italian brands at a new company, Fiat Chrysler New Zealand, a partnership
between Ateco owner Neville Crichton and former Fiat Chrysler Australia boss Clyde Campbell. A confusing state of affairs, but ultimately a major disappointment for SDA.
In terms of new-car brands, that left SDA with Peugeot and (as of February) sister brand Citroen, which had moved across from Ateco at the behest of the French factory - a
move unconnected with the CJD changes.
Last year, two companies with big dreams about greener motoring pulled the plug on their operations.
Better Place, founded in 2007, wanted to establish a network of battery switching stations for electric vehicles (EVs). It partnered with Renault, which produced a version of the Fluence sedan compatible with the technology.
The idea was that when your EV battery ran flat you pulled into a Better Place station and it was replaced with a fresh one.
The technology was similar to that used to load missiles on to fighter jets.
By 2012 there were 21 operational battery swap stations in Israel (where the company was
based) and Denmark, and about 1400 Better Place-compatible Fluences on the road.
Still, that was a bit short of the company's projection of 100,000 such vehicles on the road within three years.
Better Place was deep in debt and liquidated in 2013.
Fisker, maker of the high-tech Karma plug-in hybrid, also finally ran out of juice in 2013.
Launched in 2009 with a conditional loan of $528 million from the American government, the company had plans to produce not only the Karma luxury sedan but also a lower-price, higher-volume model from 2012.
Karma was the ultimate glamour green car: Hollywood star and hybrid early-adopter Leonardo DiCaprio was an investor and brand ambassador.
The Karma was critically acclaimed but plagued by problems, including a launch delayed by two years, technical problems and plain bad luck, such as when an entire shipment of cars for Europe was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.
Fisker was also hauled into court as questions arose about why the government had committed so much money to a venture aimed at the fortunate few.
Hong Kong company Hybrid Technology acquired Fisker's government loan in October 2013 and the carmaker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in November. If the Chapter 11 case is approved in court this month, Hybrid Technology will probably acquire Fisker in its entirety.
It might have conquered Car of the Year in so many ways in 2013, but the Volkswagen brand took some big hits as well. First there was the global recall of some cars fitted with
DSG transmissions (2008-11 models): the problem centred around an electronic fault which could cause cars to lose power unexpectedly.
This highly publicised issue undermined VW's reputation for supreme reliability. It also created hysteria in Australia, as it was linked to a fatal road accident in Victoria in 2011, in which it was thought a woman's 2008 (manual-transmission) Golf may have lost power before being hit from behind. A coroner later ruled there was no fault with the car.
There were more recalls later in the year, again for DSG transmissions, as well as fixes for a fuse on the Tiguan and fuel line modifications on the Amarok. Minor issues, but proof that you can't win all the time in the automotive industry.