THERE has been a changing of the guard in the Australian car industry, with sales of locally made Toyotas eclipsing rival Ford for the first time.
Official figures for 2012 are not revealed until Friday but it is believed the Toyota Camry and Aurion outsold the Ford Territory SUV, the Falcon sedan and the Falcon ute.
Ford retained a slim sales lead going into December but Toyota's local duo had a big month thanks to a zero-finance deal on the Aurion and Camry.
The result is another blow to Ford's beleaguered Broadmeadows assembly line, which has seen production cuts and redundancies as sales of the once-popular Falcon continue their downward spiral.
The arrival of a more fuel-efficient four-cylinder Falcon in April has done little to halt the car's slide down the sales charts.
At its peak in 1995 the Falcon found 81,000 buyers. For 2012, sales will be around the 14,000 mark, further calling into question Ford's future as a car manufacturer in Australia.
The company has committed to - and received government funding for - building the Falcon and Territory until 2016 but unless it can stop the rot Detroit could pull the pin on local production before then.
In contrast, Toyota's locally built Camry Hybrid has picked up an increasing number of fleet sales from companies looking to reduce their environmental footprint and fuel bills.
The petrol-electric model now makes up about one in four Camry sales. Camry sales are up by one-third for 2012, masking the overall decline in sales of locally built vehicles. Falcon and Holden Commodore sales are down by 25 per cent as buyers flock to smaller cars and SUVs.
After a 15-year reign as Australia's most popular new car, the Commodore was bumped into second place by the imported Mazda3 in 2011. Now the home-grown hero is expected to finish behind the Mazda, the Toyota Corolla and the Toyota HiLux ute. It will only narrowly outsell its stablemate, the Cruze.
Some other notable results expected to be confirmed by the official figures on Friday are:
■Last year was a record for new car sales, with more than 1 million sold.
■The market grew 10 per cent, driven mainly by SUV and four-wheel-drive ute sales. The three fastest-growing major brands sell only SUVs or 4WD utes - Jeep, Land Rover and Chinese newcomer Great Wall Motors.
■Three of the top 10 vehicles were 4WD utes.
■Sales of import-only Mazda and Hyundai have overtaken Ford for the first time, with Mazda now the third-most popular brand and Hyundai fourth.
■Locally made cars were outsold by those built in Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
The story Pressure on Ford as Toyota moves ahead in sales race first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.