While Kiwi motorists generally are switching to smaller, fuel efficient vehicles, Whangarei car buyers still prefer large powerful cars, a local dealer says.

Motor Trade Association figures show 1619 new cars were sold in Whangarei last year, 14 per cent more than in 2012, with Suzuki Swift, Holden Commodore and Mazda CX-5 the three top sellers.

Used car sales were up 41 per cent at 1823, with Mazda Demio, Mazda Axela and Nissan Tiida the most popular among local buyers.

Nationwide, 82,433 new cars were sold compared to 98,971 used cars - up 7 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.


Owner of AllKars Whangarei Bryan Lambert said their biggest sellers were six or eight-cylinder cars, such as Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons.

"When you pull up at the pump in a big six or eight-cylinder car it doesn't cost you any more than a small car. It depends what you're doing with it."

Mazda Axelas and Nissan Tiidas were "pretty run of the mill" but were not as popular in his yard.

Most customers researched what they wanted online before coming in for a look, instead of asking staff for extensive advice.

"Even the local people, they go on our website."

According to the MTA figures, for new commercial vehicles, the Ford Ranger was the top seller in Whangarei, followed by the Toyota Hilux and the Holden Colorado.

Meanwhile, motorcycle sales dipped, at 114, down 7 per cent on 2012.

The top-selling cars nationwide between 2009 and 2013 were predominantly efficient four-cylinder models, the MTA figures show.

The Toyota Corolla continued to dominate the new and used market, but traditional favourites - such as the Subaru Legacy and Holden Commodore, the only car with more than four cylinders in the top 10 - had slipped in popularity.

MTA spokesman Ian Stronach said the price of 91 octane petrol in 2009 was $1.63 a litre but by the end of 2013 it was close to $2.20 a litre.

"With petrol costs increasing around 35 per cent in that time, it was entirely predictable that there would be a swing to smaller-engined cars."

Overall, the vehicle sales market had been improving in recent years but 2013 proved to be exceptional, with improvements in every sector MTA monitored, he said.

"The performance of the industry set the pace for overall economic recovery, and this seems to be a pattern being repeated in overseas economies - vehicle sales have picked up ahead of improvements in other areas."

AA motoring affairs manager Andrew Bayliss said people had been turning away from bigger-engined cars in recent years.

"They are looking for something more fuel-efficient and obviously small four-cylinder cars are very much in vogue.

"But also, so are SUVs - they suit the Kiwi lifestyle, but you can also have quite economic diesel engines in some of them as well."

Environmental decision-making had played a part in the shift. additional reporting Matthew Backhouse