How are Australia’s top car manufacturers and models competing on search engines?

Following Holden’s departure from Australia, we put the automotive industry’s search engine marketing performance under the spotlight and analysed how many Google users have been looking online for our top ten car badges and models over the last five years – you might be surprised by what we found…

Australia’s top selling cars

According to Savings.com.au the top selling cars in Australia since 2015 are:

1 Toyota HiLux
2 Ford Ranger
3 Toyota Corolla
4 Mitsubishi Triton
5 Toyota RAV4
6 Mitsubishi ASX
7 Hyundai i30
8 Isuzu Ute D-Max
9 Mazda CX-5
10 Toyota Landcruiser

Using Google Search Trends, we got our digital microscope out to examine what’s been going on in cyberspace. Back in 2015, the top ten cars in terms of search volume matched up perfectly to the sales chart above however, over the course of the last five years, there have been a few changes that could signal a shift in sales going forwards.

Between 2015 and 2016, the Mazda CX-5 (position 8) and Isuzu D-Max (pos. 9) traded places. In 2017, the Mazda CX-5 (pos. 7) continued its incline, displacing the Hyundai i30 (pos.8). It appears however, that following the initial backstep taken by the Hyundai i30, it begins to recover in both 2018 (pos.7) and in 2019 (pos.6).

By the time we get to 2019, the top ten in terms of search volume within Australia, looked like this:

Model

Growth / Decline between 2015 and 2019

Toyota HiLux: (Australia) -2%
Ford Ranger: (Australia) 19%
Mitsubishi Triton: (Australia) 31%
Toyota Corolla: (Australia) 13%
Hyundai i30: (Australia) 69%
Toyota RAV4: (Australia) 26%
Mitsubishi ASX: (Australia) 24%
Mazda CX-5: (Australia) 44%
Isuzu D-Max: (Australia) 19%
Toyota Land Cruiser Prado: (Australia) 86%

What is impressive across every car model (aside from the Toyota HiLux), is that all have managed to increase their search volumes over the five-year period which is partly down to the rising dependency on search engines for information sourcing.

There are some particularly notable increases, with the Hyundai i30 adding an additional 69% of search volume during this period. Looking at the data, it’s not too far behind the Toyota Corolla and given the rate of advancement, will leapfrog the Corolla this year. When we take a closer look at Hyundai’s search engine marketing expenditure, it is clear that this is an important strategy for them, but more on that later. It’s also worth highlighting that between 2018 and 2019, each of the top four models experienced a decline in search volumes.

The 10 most popular car brands in 2019 and their search success

In 2019 the top selling car brands according to Savings.com.au were:

1 Toyota
2 Mazda
3 Hyundai
4 Mitsubishi
5 Ford
6 Kia
7 Nissan
8 Volkswagen
9 Honda
10 Holden

As with the preferred model, we looked at the top ten car manufacturers in terms of search volumes. Whilst the models search volumes closely matched the sales, when it came to the manufacturer, we noticed a large disparity.

In 2019, the top ten based on Google search trends looked like this.

Manufacturer

Growth / Decline between 2015 and 2019

Toyota 8%
Ford Motor Company -13%
Holden -17%
Mazda 0%
Honda 1%
Nissan -11%
Volkswagen -8%
Hyundai 14%
Mitsubishi Motors: (Australia) 6%
Kia Motors: (Australia) 60%

There are couple of stark differences here. Holden is in the top three where in terms of sales, it’s tenth. Equally, Hyundai is only eighth in terms of search volumes, but reached number three for sales.

During the last five years, the top ten on search have barely changed. The only switch is in 2017 where Honda (pos. 5) displaced Nissan (pos. 6). Other than that, the positions remained equal.

When we look at search volume growth and declines however, most manufacturer or make based searches have decreased, with the exception of Honda (1%), Hyundai (14%), Mitsubishi (6%) and Kia (60%). At this rate, it’s likely that Hyundai with leapfrog Volkswagen in 2020.

Google Advertising expenditure by car manufacturer in Australia

Some of the data in search made us question how it was that brands such as Hyundai and Holden had such a disparity between sales, and what they were experiencing on Google organic search trends.

When we started to look at Google Advertising spend by the top ten automotive manufacturers, we identified some curious insights.

Calculating the average spend for the top ten, we then worked out the variance for each brand against that average, which looks like this:

Brand

Advertising spend as % of top ten average

Hyundai: (Australia) 65.42%
Toyota: (Australia) 56.87%
Ford Motor Company: (Australia) 53.78%
Mazda: (Australia) 16.04%
Kia Motors: (Australia) -5.64%
Honda: (Australia) -30.75%
Nissan: (Australia) -55.71%
Mitsubishi Motors: (Australia) -80.88%
Holden: (Australia) No data
Volkswagen: (Australia) No data

Amazingly it appears that Hyundai is spending over 65% more than the top ten average Australian PPC campaigns. They are then followed by the top three according to sales, with Toyota, Ford and Mazda, each spending more than average on Google Advertising.

Whilst Kia Motors appears to be spending less than the average, it is worth remembering that they have relatively poor organic search volume (position 10) but were the sixth biggest car manufacturer in Australia in 2019.

Honda, Nissan and Mitsubishi are spending much less than their counterparts, with their Google Advertising budget being the only three with a spend in five figures.

Finally, we couldn’t find any advertising data for Holden or Volkswagen which seems strange, but could explain both manufacturers’ decline in this market.

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