The roller coaster ride that has been the market for new cars in Europe throughout 2009 is finally drawing towards its final stage. With effectively only four selling weeks remaining, it may well be that the plunges of Q1 and Q2 may yet be corrected by the surge of Q3 and the levelling off that is now taking place. Time then to assess the state of the brands that soared to hitherto unfamiliar heights as well as those that lost their lunch.
Those who stubbornly maintain that rear-wheel drive is an essential part of a premium brand should note the identity of Europe’s most successful such brand. With 521,016 vehicle registrations in the 30 markets* for which the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) compiles data, Audi is now comfortably ahead of BMW (478,692) and Mercedes-Benz (502,118). By contrast, in the first ten months of 2008, Mercedes-Benz outsold Audi by 35,304 vehicles and BMW by 19,481.
Already ahead of BMW, Hyundai-Kia also looks set to soon be bigger in Europe than Mercedes-Benz.
While it was only necessary for Audi sales to fall by 8.1% in the Jan-Oct period (BMW: -18.3%, Mercedes-Benz: -16.6%) for it to finally overtake its rivals after decades of aiming to do so, others have had to work harder throughout 2009 for their own place in the record books. One such is Hyundai, the standout success of this year. With the overall market down 5% as at the end of October, Hyundai sales were up 24.2% to 287,381 units. Add in Kia registrations and the group is only 107,082 vehicles behind Toyota (497,854 versus 604,936): in the equivalent period of 2008, the Japanese brand led the Korean twosome by 217,831 units. Already ahead of BMW, Hyundai-Kia also looks set to soon be bigger in Europe than Mercedes-Benz.
Scrapping schemes in the still strongly performing German and UK markets have greatly aided the ambitions of Audi, Hyundai and Kia in recent months thanks to buyers’ tastes for smaller and cheaper models. Lower-priced brands have also greatly benefited and none more so than Skoda. Amazingly, the Volkswagen Group division was only 634 sales behind BMW (3 Series sales down 32%) in Germany last month, outselling Renault, Fiat and Toyota in the process. The Fabia, with 10,639 units sold, was less than 200 vehicles away from pushing the Opel Corsa off the number two slot (the Golf remains firmly at number one).
Another brand having a great 2009 in Europe’s largest market is Ford – outselling Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW in their home market is a huge achievement. And it should be noted that the 15,579-vehicle lead that Ford now holds over Mercedes compares to the 101,753 cars it trailed by as at the end of October 2008.
The 15,579-vehicle lead that Ford now holds over Mercedes compares to the 101,753 cars it trailed by as at the end of October 2008.
Strong sales of the Corsa, combined with the imminent launch of the all-new Astra is much-needed good news for General Motors Europe but its third brand, Chevrolet, is the real success story of recent months. Notwithstanding the terrible time it and all other OEMs are having in Russia, registrations in the ACEA 30 markets have been so strong that Chevy (16,178) was a more popular nameplate than Mazda (15,560) in October. Indeed, Honda (17,733) was only 1,555 vehicles ahead of the surging Chevrolet last month. Volvo could be the next domino to fall, now only 4,421 units ahead of GM’s value brand for the year to date, versus a 34,602-vehicle lead this time last year.
Ironically, as the year draws to a close, a European market that in Q1 and Q2 showed alarming signs of heading for its worst performance in decades now looks as though it could end up more or less unchanged or possibly even up compared to 2008.
*EU27 excluding Malta & Cyprus, and EFTA excluding Liechtenstein
The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.