AUSTRALIANS who pay for a car with their own money are only interested in small cars, according to confidential sales figures obtained by Drive.
The sales results are more bad news for the local car industry, which predominantly builds large cars and has experienced a sales slump in the past decade.
The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, which releases the official tally monthly, only publishes overall sales figures. The car industry is given access to more detailed numbers that give a split between private, fleet and government sales.
And those figures, obtained exclusively by Drive, show that nine of the 10 best-selling vehicles to private buyers are small cars.
Holden's Commodore, the best-selling car for 15 years before being toppled by the Mazda3 last year, is the exception, coming in at seventh place due to the popularity of high-performance V8 models and the Sportwagon. V8s make up almost one in four Commodore and Commodore Ute sales, while the Sportwagon accounts for about one-third of the sedan/wagon split.
And, for the first time in its 34-year history, the Commodore was outsold last month by a car in its own stable: its smaller Cruze sibling.
No soft-roaders or four-wheel-drives - whose sales have more than doubled during the past decade - make the top-10 list of private sales, which suggests that big business and government are dragging the chain on adopting more fuel-efficient cars.
The mix of private and fleet customers is important to car makers because it has a direct impact on profitability; private sales have much bigger margins.
Private buyers also often opt for more expensive variants; while they are happy to downsize the vehicle, they are often prepared to spend the same amount as they would have on a larger car. High proportions of fleet sales can also have a negative impact on used-car values because supply doesn't always match demand.
The Mazda3 and Mazda2 have the highest percentage of sales to private buyers, at 87 per cent. That figure contrasts sharply with the struggling Ford Falcon, which attracts just three private buyers in every 10 sales. Figures released this week show the Falcon posted its worst-ever monthly sales for January, with fewer than 1000 cars - a further 20 per cent drop on the figure for last year.
The Mazda3 sold 36,026 cars to private buyers last year, while the Falcon managed just 5232. In contrast, Ford's tiny Fiesta found 9621 private buyers, representing eight out of 10 sales.
The story is the same at Holden, where the Cruze small car was almost twice as popular as the Commodore with private buyers last year: 19,889 sales to 11,782. The figure is expected to widen this year, as the Cruze line-up now includes a hatch variant.
Other popular cars with private buyers include the Toyota Corolla, which came in second to the Mazda, the Mitsubishi Lancer and Volkswagen Golf.
All three have a higher percentage of fleet buyers (about one-third).
Hyundai's i30 also makes the list but it is more popular with fleets. Corporate customers make up 73 per cent of buyers.
Traditionally, small cars have been less profitable than large cars but the slide in popularity of cars such as the Falcon, Commodore and Toyota's Aurion/Camry has led to deep discounting, which has eroded their advantage. The discounts have also driven down resale values, creating a vicious cycle that has the local manufacturers on their knees.