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The plucky Aussie icon that refuses to surrender to massive utes and Teslas

The Toyota Corolla has outstripped exciting new cars like the Tesla Model Y, coming back into the bestsellers list after several years in the wilderness.

The car market is currently being upturned by massive utes, American electrics, and new Chinese brands, but guess who just showed up? Who is back, once again, in the winner's circle?

The unbeatable Toyota Corolla. In the list of best-sellers for April 2024, the faithful Japanese hatchback comes in fourth, the only small car in the mix. It’s like if Ian Thorpe won a medal at Paris 2024.

Everyone thought it was all over, the world had moved on. But they got proved wrong. The Toyota Corolla - a model name launched back in the 1960s - is relevant still, right now in AD 2024.

A new Corolla and an RAM ute with an inset of a 1990 Corolla
The humble Toyota Corolla has had a resurgence as huge utes and electric vehicles dominate the new car market. (Supplied)

Do you have a story to tell? Contact yahoo.finance.au@yahooinc.com

The car market has changed, that’s clear.

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As the next chart shows, big utes are now a common family car and SUVs are the new sedan.

But if you look closely you can also see a little reversal in the fortunes of small cars, just recently.

That category is selling more now than a year ago or six months ago.

Corolla
Corolla (Jason Murphy)

 

The big reason for the Corolla’s comeback is in bright LED outside the front of your favourite petroleum retailer.

With prices for fuel hovering over $2 a litre, and everything else through the roof too, smaller cars have a certain allure.

It doesn’t hurt that some small cars have a hybrid variant either, delivering even bigger fuel savings.

Hybrid sales in 2024 are absolutely enormous, more than double their 2023 levels.

This time last year, electric sales were outstripping hybrids, but in 2024 it’s the other way round as consumers have a bet each way, preferring an engine that runs on both liquid fuel and electrons.

We are in a weird sort of cost-of-living crisis where we are buying more cars than ever before(?!), but making sure they are cheap to run.

Small cars took over from Holden Commodores back in the early 2010s, after fuel prices rose over $1.30 a litre and didn’t go back down.

That felt very expensive at the time! Then, around 2015, fuel prices went backwards for years and Australians began to splurge on big utes that guzzle diesel.

Now prices are stuck higher and another changing of the guard may be about to happen.

Corolla
Corolla (Jason Murphy)

So small cars may be coming back in vogue a little. And when you talk small cars, you talk Corolla.

No other car has sold as many copies since 2009. (The Mazda 3 was also once a favourite but its popularity is over, overtaken in the Mazda range by the CX-3. The CX-3 is classified as an SUV even though they are quite modestly-sized).

This time last year you could scour the best-seller list and the Corolla was nowhere to be found.

The once-mighty hatch had fallen to be the 19th best-selling car in Australia, having sold fewer units than, for example, the Kia Sportage.

An ignominious fate for a former number one. But perhaps not unexpected.

Corolla
Corolla (Jason Murphy)

The car market has never been in such a state of upheaval, with RAMs taking huge chomps from the big diesel sector and BYDs eating away at the electric side, and you’d have been forgiven for assuming that the mantle had been passed on and the era of the Corolla was over.

Even Toyota seemed to be thinking so, introducing a sort-of-SUV version of the Corolla called the Corolla Cross.

But in 2024 the champ is back. Corollas are flying out the door. This next chart shows they have risen into fourth spot on the sales chart in the most recent month, while Ranger is off the top spot.

Corolla and Ford ranger sales rankings.
Corolla and Ford ranger sales rankings. (Jason Murphy)

Corollas are not always cheap any more either.

You can spec out a Corolla for $72,000 (this is a hot hatch, not the one your UberEats is being delivered in).

Or you can spend $36,000 for a hybrid version (even that seems a lot for a Corolla to me?!) I guess the resale value is not so bad, as the above CarSales advertisement suggests.

Could the Corolla continue its ascent and kick the Ford Ranger off the top of the sales chat? The answer probably depends on the global oil price.

It is still very high, but fortunately, for the moment, it is falling again.

Global oil prices are still high but appear to be falling.
Global oil prices are still high but appear to be falling. (Jason Murphy)

At this stage, it’s unlikely the Corolla will ever make it back to number one because the next generation of top-selling cars is likely electric.

Toyota hasn’t been that keen on selling electric vehicles, preferring to sell hybrids and work on developing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

They missed the boat a bit and are now struggling to catch up. But in the meantime, Chinese electric cars have got their hooks into us and it might be one of them that is the next surprise number-one bestseller.