New car registrations in 2019 posted their first calendar-year decline in a decade as tailwinds supporting earlier record sales subsided, Motor Industry Association figures show.
Some 154,479 new passenger and commercial vehicles were registered last year, down from a record 161,519 in 2018, the association said. That was the first annual decline since 2009, when new car sales plummeted 28 percent as the local economy tanked amid the global financial crisis.
"As expected, for 2019 the market was down 4.3 percent on 2018," MIA chief executive David Crawford said in a statement. "It is the first time since 2009, the height of the global financial crisis, that we have seen a year on year drop in new vehicle registrations and comes after five consecutive record years."
Crawford said the local market continued to be dominated by utility vehicles, with the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux the top two selling vehicles in 2019 at 9,486 and 7,126 respectively. However, that demand tapered off by the December quarter, he said.
Pessimism among builders and farmers – two key buyers of utes – weighed on demand for commercial vehicles, with the rural sector unsettled by the prospect of tougher environmental regulation and the construction boom's peak posing questions for the building industry.
Monthly new commercial vehicle registrations peaked in June 2017 at 5,804, before the formation of the Labour-led coalition government. June is typically a busy month for commercial registrations with the Fieldays agricultural trade event in Mystery Creek.
Toyota remained the country's most popular vehicle by a considerable margin, with 30,140 new cars registered in 2019, or 20 percent of the market. That was down from 32,260 in 2018. Ford was the nearest at 14,776, or 10 percent of the market, of which 10,663 were commercial vehicles.
Toyota dominates in the passenger vehicle market with the Corolla and Rav 4 the top two selling cars. Toyota New Zealand's annual revenue of $1.36 billion in the March 2019 year was more than twice that of rival Ford Motor Company of New Zealand's $631 million in calendar 2018.
Toyota New Zealand reported a loss of $3.7 million in the March 2019 year, even as its retail network of 24 independent companies posted their third-highest profit on record.
The car maker's New Zealand arm introduced a new agency model in April 2018 to standardise prices across the network, which weighed on the bottom line in the 2019 year.
In October, the auto firm's local arm said it anticipated another testing year for the motor industry, but said the new agency model would limit internal competition among its retail network and that transparent pricing would be increasingly attractive to consumers.
Toyota is targeting 30 percent of new vehicle sales in 2020 to be hybrid electric for both its Toyota and Lexus brands, a step up from the 17 percent target it set in 2019.
MIA's Crawford said Toyota's hybrid Rav 4 quickly became the country's most popular hybrid after it was introduced in March.
Listed dealer Colonial Motor Co chair Jim Gibbons told shareholders in November that the decline in car sales wasn't expected to continue, with industry numbers levelling off over the medium term.
At the time, he said interest in electric vehicles was high but didn't translate into transactions, with the $60,000 to $75,000 price tag too high.