A few months ago, I posted an article comparing French car sales in 1985 and 2014. I noticed it was a very popular article, so I’ll try to find some more countries to find the data from about 30 years back. The first one on the list, and again thanks to Daniel Carrer, is Germany.
While the overall market in France hasn’t grown much in those 29 years, car sales in Germany have increased by more than a quarter, from less than 2,4 million in 1985 to more than 3 million in 2014. Much of that growth can be attributed to import brands, as sales of German brands have increased by only 145.000 units in that period. That means their market share has shrunk from a whopping 72,7% to an only slightly more modest 62%. This excludes brands that now belong to a German group, but which aren’t officially German. If we include Seat, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, Rolls Royce, Mini and Smart, the Germans still control almost 72% of their home turf.
But with Skoda adding over 170.000 annual sales and 5,6 points of share and Seat another 90.000 sales and 2,9 points of share, there are bound to be losers among the local brands, and the biggest loser of the bunch is without a doubt GM’s German unit Opel. While Volkswagen has held on to the #1 spot thanks to 100.000 additional sales, Opel has plunged from its second place in 1985 to fifth place last year, losing almost 150.000 sales and no less than half of its market share in the process. Another German branch from an American company which has lost a lot of sales since the mid-80s is Ford: market share has dropped from 10,7% in 1985 to 6.9% in 2014 as sales have declined by 46.000 units and the brand has been bounced from 4th to 6th place and last mainstream local brand.
|Rank||Brand||1985||Market share||Rank||Brand||2014||Market Share|
|German brands||1.732.110||72,73%||German brands||1.877.466||61,97%|
|Geman brands (incl. Group brands)||2.178.027||71,90%|
These misfortunes have helped the German premium automakers: Mercedes-Benz has passed Opel to take the #2 spot despite virtually flat sales of just over 270.000 annual units. BMW has added 1,8 percentage points of market share and 93.000 annual sales to move from 5th to 4th, but Audi has done even better: it has doubled in volume and has added 3 points of market share, passing BMW, Ford and Opel to go from #6 onto the German podium. Audi also greatly contributes to VW Group’s 1,2 million annual sales in its home market, which gives it a market share of close to 40%. Audi sales would start their steady rise in 1986, when the new generation Audi 80 was introduced, no longer based on a VW Passat platform
With the top-6 entirely German both years, we find Fiat as the biggest importer in 1985 with over 100.000 sales. 29 years later, Fiat has lost a third of its volume and 2 points of its market share, and is now the #4 importer behind Renault, Hyundai and Toyota. Renault sales in Germany have increased by 42% to (like Fiat in 1985) over 100.000 sales.
The best selling Asian manufacturer in 1985 was Mazda in 9th place. Fast forward 29 years and the best selling Asian brand is still in 9th place, but this time it’s Hyundai, a brand that hadn’t even started exporting cars to Germany in 1985, but has built up a volume of almost 100.000 annual sales in less than 30 years! Kia (#15) adds another 53.500 sales to that volume and has become the #4 Asian brand, ahead of the former Asia-leader Mazda.
Other Asian manufacturers have been less fortunate, as Mitsubishi (#13 to #23), Honda (#14 to #24) and Subaru (#19 to #28) have lost almost half of their volume in Germany in 29 years, while Daihatsu (#20 in 1985) and Isuzu (#25 in 1985) have completely stopped exports to Europe, leaving Suzuki (#16 down to #21) as the only Japanese brand that has increased its market share in the period. If we look at market shares by country of origin, we see that most of the gain from South-Korean manufacturers has come from Japanese brands, indicating that there’s a ceiling to the demand for Asian cars at about 14% market share. So if the Koreans want to continue making inroads in Germany, this will likely happen at the cost of their Japanese rivals.
Similar to France, a total of 13 brands have disappeared from the ranking, either because they stopped exports to Germany or because they’ve stopped existing altogether. Besides the already mentioned Daihatsu and Isuzu, we say a last goodbye to Austin from England; Saab of Sweden; Talbot, Matra and Alpine from France; Pininfarina, Bertone, Innocenti and Autobianchi of Italy, Chrysler from the USA and FSO from Poland, although Alpine is expected to rise from the ashes in a few years time.
On the other hand, besides Hyundai and Kia, a few other brands have appeared and stormed the ranking: most notably Dacia, going from nonexistent to almost 50.000 sales and 1,6% market share. Mini has come from 0 to 33.000 sales and 1,1% share, and Smart scoring over 22.000 sales and 0,74% of share.
|Rank||Model||1985 sales||Market share||Rank||Model||2014 sales||Market share|
|1||Volkswagen Golf||298.175||12,52%||1||Volkswagen Golf||255.044||8,42%|
|2||Opel Kadett||190.124||7,98%||2||Volkswagen Passat||72.153||2,38%|
|3||Mercedes-Benz 190||122.751||5,15%||3||Volkswagen Polo||68.103||2,25%|
|4||Volkswagen Passat||105.622||4,43%||4||Audi A3||65.199||2,15%|
|5||Mercedes-Benz W124||98.462||4,13%||5||Volkswagen Tiguan||61.947||2,04%|
|6||BMW 3-series||96.929||4,07%||6||Mercedes-Benz C-Class||60.350||1,99%|
|7||Ford Sierra||76.441||3,21%||7||BMW 3-series||55.681||1,84%|
|8||Opel Ascona||73.103||3,07%||8||Opel Corsa||55.151||1,82%|
|9||Ford Escort||67.891||2,85%||9||Skoda Octavia||52.620||1,74%|
|10||Ford Fiesta||64.775||2,72%||10||BMW 1-series||50.250||1,66%|
|11||Volkswagen Polo||63.515||2,67%||11||Ford Focus||49.494||1,63%|
|12||Audi 80||59.301||2,49%||12||Audi A4||48.278||1,59%|
|13||Opel Corsa||45.299||1,90%||13||Volkswagen Touran||47.801||1,58%|
|14||Audi 100||44.959||1,89%||14||Opel Astra||46.193||1,52%|
|15||Opel Rekord||44.693||1,88%||15||Ford Fiesta||45.228||1,49%|
|16||Volkswagen Jetta||42.695||1,79%||16||Mercedes-Benz E-Class||44.351||1,46%|
|17||Peugeot 205||41.983||1,76%||17||Volkswagen Up!||40.902||1,35%|
|18||Fiat Uno||37.076||1,56%||18||Seat Leon||40.251||1,33%|
|19||BMW 5-series||36.612||1,54%||19||Audi A6||39.596||1,31%|
|20||Mazda 626||32.993||1,39%||20||BMW 5-series||38.733||1,28%|
|Top 10||50,15%||Top 10||26,29%|
|Top 20||69,00%||Top 20||40,84%|
Just to paint a picture of the time period we’re talking about here: the Opel Kadett had just changed from the square D-generation to the round E-generation, the last one before the brand switched to the Astra name, while Volkswagen had introduced its second generation Golf a year earlier, in 1983. And one year before that, Mercedes-Benz had launched its smallest car ever, the 190. This Bruno Sacco design was an instant hit, as it made the German top-3 in 1985 with more than double the figure of its rival BMW 3-series E30, which was introduced in the same year as the Baby-Benz. Download the 1986 comparison test (in German) between the Golf and the Kadett by AutoBild here or buy the 2011 comparison test (also in German) between the BMW E30 M3, the Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evolution II and the Ford Sierra RS Cosworth for just € 1,- here.
Similar to France, the model ranking has fragmented, with the leader Volkswagen Golf II down from 12,5% market share to 8,4% share for the Golf VII, which is contrary to what most people (including me) would expect, when they claim the Golf is ultra-dominant in Germany. The share of the top-10 has shrunk from over 50% to just over 26% and the share of the top-20 is down from 69% to less than 41% of the market.
The models ranking shows more chauvinism in Germany than it does in France, especially in 2014. In 1985 the best selling import model was the Peugeot 205 in 17th place, while 29 years later there are no import models in the top-20. The first import model last year was the Fiat 500 in 27th place (source: BSCB). With the top-3 all VW models and the top-5 all VW Group models, that 40% market share as mentioned above becomes very visible in the models ranking.
Another trend we can see both in France and in Germany is the slowing interest in midsized and large sedans, although it’s not as visible in the top-20 rankings as it is in France. In the mid-eighties, the best selling midsized car was the Mercedes-Benz 190 in #2. Its successor the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is down to #6 overall in 2014 with half of its volume, while the Volkswagen Passat makes sure there’s still a midsized car occupying that second place. With cars like the Ford Sierra, Opel Ascona, Audi 80 and even the Mazda 626, there were 7 midsized models in the 1985 top-20, versus just 4 in 2014.
The most popular large car in 1985 was the Mercedes-Benz W124 (then known as the 200/300 series) in an amazing 5th place with almost 100.000 sales. Its successor the Mercedes-Benz E-Class is down to 16th place, also with less than half of the volume of its great-grandfather). It’s still the best selling large car in Germany, ahead of the Audi A6 and BMW 5-series. 29 years earlier, the Audi 100 was also ahead of the 5-series, but the Opel Rekord made it 4 large sedans in the top-20. Opel stopped making large sedans in 2003 when it discontinued the Omega.
Finally, which models have held on to their top-20 positions and have still kept the same name after almost 30 years? Besides the obvious leader of the pack Volkswagen Golf, we find that the VW brand is as conservative with its names as it has become with its design. The Polo and Passat are still among Germany’s best seller, as are the BMW 3-series and 5-series and the subcompacts Ford Fiesta and Opel Corsa.