A few weeks ago, when we were looking at which cars were leading their segments in Europe in 2016, one of our readers wondered how the market as a whole has evolved over the past decades: which segments have grown and which have decreased and what trends are visible in the market? As it turns out, the total market volume in 2016 is actually very comparable to that of 2001, as the European car market had a size of just over 15 million sales both last year and 15 years ago. Of course, in the meantime there have been great fluctuations, as the market peaked at over 16 million in 2004 and then crashed to just 12,3 million in 2013, and also between the segments there have been shifts in the period between then and now. But overall there’s a clear trend visible: mainstream brands have stagnated while luxury brands have floundered, MPVs made a brief successful run in the first half of the 2000’s, but since then it’s been all about crossovers and SUVs, while regular cars have been down across the board. So let’s take a more in-depth look at the trends we can see happening for the past 15 years.
EV and PHEV sales in Europe have set another record in 2016, but the growth curve has significantly slowed, with just a 7% gain for battery electric cars and 17% for Plug-in hybrid cars, compared to an overall market up 6,2%. As a result, combined sales of all plug-in vehicles grew from 1,4% of the market in 2015 to 1,5% in 2016. While we hit the 100.000 annual sales milestone for PHEVs, EVs missed that target by just 2.500 units, as customers were waiting for the “next generation” EVs with longer range which arrived late 2016 (BMW i3) or early 2017 (Renault Zoe, VW e-Golf). Also, a number of governments, most notably Denmark and Sweden, have dialed back on their EV incentives in 2016 while Germany’s new EV and PHEV subsidy hasn’t made a big impact yet. In The Netherlands, an incentive on PHEV’s as company cars was cut in 2017 so that boosted deliveries of these vehicles in the last few months as customers wanted to benefit from the incentives before they ended. As a result, 2017 PHEV sales are expected to crash and burn in The Netherlands while EVs are expected to show healthy growth there because this will be the only type of vehicle to receive government incentives.
The exotic car segment in Europe grew at double the overall market growth in 2016, at +12%, helped by a handful of new products. But the leader of the segment remains unchanged, even though the Bentley Continental GT gains just 5% and therefore loses 2 percentage point of share. In Q4, the Continental GT was even down a worrying 11,5%. The Ferrari 488 continues where its predecessor 458 Italia left off: in 2nd spot, ahead of chief rival Lamborghini Huracan, which also gains just 5%, but had a more positive Q4 at +64%. The Ferrari F12, about to be replaced by the 812 Superfast in 2017, almost doubles its sales in the fourth quarter to finish the year with a 31% gain. 2016 has been a great year for Italian V12 supercars, because Lamborghini Aventador does even better at +135% in the fourth quarter and +48% for the year.
The large passenger van segment in Europe was very dynamic in 2016, with a handful of new models entering the segment and a 21% gain in overall sales to 200.000 units, as the entire top-5 showed double digit increases. The Volkswagen T6 Transporter/Multivan stays dominant with a third of all sales in this segment. Even if we combine sales of the Mercedes-Benz V-Class and Vito (as VW also does with its Multivan and Transporter, the luxury version and the basic version), the T6 would be 20.000 units ahead of its closest rival. The Fiat Ducato holds on to its podium spot thanks to strong sales in springtime, the high season for campervans, the bulk of Ducato sales. In Q4, the Fiat was in a distant 6th place with just a fifth of its volume in Q2. The V-Class gains 29% and was the clear #2 in the last quarter, and as mentioned above, would be in 2nd place for the year as well when combined with sister model Vito.
If you thought (or were hoping) the SUV-boom is going to end anytime soon, think again. Sales of the biggest and most expensive Off-roaders that hardly ever actually go off road rose by another 19% in 2016, which makes this the third consecutive year of double digit growth for the segment. That means in those three years European buyers have scooped up an additional 100.000 large premium SUVs annually to a total of almost 290.000 per year. If there was a clear and dominant leader the year before, in 2016 the #2 and #3 were within 10% of the leader. The BMW X5 still tops the charts but lost 3 percentage points of share as the competition has reloaded with fresh models. In fact, the X5 was in third place in Q4, behind the Volvo XC90 and Audi Q7, albeit by a tiny margin. The Swedish SUV is up 73% to take 2nd place while the Q7 gains 61% to move into 3rd place, both helped by their new generations which replace models that were first launched in 2002 and 2005 respectively. For the XC90 2016 also sets a new volume record, selling just 300 units more than in 2005.
The midsized premium SUV segment is one of the fastest growing in Europe, with sales up 29% in 2016 compared to an overall market up 6,2%. All remaining models improve their sales and 9 out of the top-10 set new sales records, but Mercedes-Benz and the British brands are the biggest winners this year. Still, the Volvo XC60 holds on to its segment lead and scores a record volume for the third year in a row, even though it’s the oldest model in the segment and about to be replaced in 2017. Sales of the Swedish model were up 20% in Q4, perhaps because some prospective buyers for a V70 or XC70 found these to be out of production. The new #2 of the segment is the Mercedes-Benz GLC, more than doubling the sales record of its predecessor GLK, whose design just didn’t vibe with customers in this segment. Needless to say this is also the highest position the brand has ever finished in this segment. The GLC (which includes the Coupe version) will be aiming for a top spot in 2017 as Volvo may lose some sales during the changeover to the new generation XC60, but there will be competition from the all-new Audi Q5, which had held on to its 2nd place until November and lost out by just 83 sales.
Sales of limousines in Europe were up 5% in 2016, compared to an overall market up 6,2%, but were stable in Q4. The Mercedes-Benz S-Class has been so dominant in this segment that it holds on to its lead despite a 10% loss in volume while its nearest rival more than doubles up. The all-new BMW 7-series outsold the S-Class in Q4 and looks set to take control of the segment in 2017, the last time it did so was in 2012. Keep in mind it may already have done so in 2016 when comparing pure limousine sales, as the S-Class figures also include sales of the coupe and convertible models, which BMW doesn’t offer. The Audi A8 stays in third place with sales down 20% for the year as it’s starting to show its age. The A8 lost more than a third of its volume in Q4, when it was outsold by the all-new Porsche Panamera, which is aiming for that #3 spot in 2017.
The premium large car segment in Europe is in dire straits with a loss of 6% in 2016 but a more painful -13% in Q4. Only one model in the top-10 manages to improve its volume: the new leader Mercedes-Benz E-Class, helped by the new generation. The E-Class was up 17% for the year and an even more impressive 32% in Q4. To be fair, this includes sales of the coupe version, which Audi doesn’t offer in this class and BMW has split off from the 5-Series as the 6-Series. The Audi A6 and BMW 5-series are actually impressively stable considering their age compared to the fresh E-Class. The A6 was down just 2% (-10% in Q4) and its new generation isn’t expected until 2018, while the 5-Series lost 8% (-2% in Q4) while the new generation had already been revealed and has entered showrooms early 2017.
Sales of premium midsized cars in Europe increased slightly faster than the overall market in 2016, at +7%. This is also significantly better than the growth of the mainstream midsized segment, which saw virtually stable sales. The Mercedes-Benz C-Class manages to hold on to the segment lead despite improving just 2% while a surging Audi A4 adds almost a third to its volume thanks to the new generation. However, keep in mind that the C-Class figures include sales of the Coupe and Convertible version as well, so in pure sedan and station wagon deliveries, the A4 is likely to be ahead. The BMW 3-series also has stable volume and is knocked down to the bottom spot of the podium, even though it surprisingly outsold the much fresher A4 in the last quarter. If we combine brand sales of the German Big 3, we see that BMW is the segment leader with 212.544 sales of its 3-Series and 4-Series, just ahead of Audi with its A4 and A5 at 206.341, while Mercedes-Benz is a distant third, as it misses a 4-door coupe version to compete with the 4-Series Gran Coupe and A5 Sportback.
In an overall market up 6,2%, the premium compact car segment in Europe grows 8% in 2016, to top 900.000 annual sales for the first time ever. Growth slowed down a bit in the last quarter, when the segment grew by just 2%. Segment leader Audi A3 sees its sales fall by 4%, but still comfortably leads the segment if we’d only look at nameplates. This is relevant to mention, because Audi only has one nameplate in this segment, under which it sells four different bodystyles: 3-door and 5-door hatchbacks, a sedan and a convertible. Its main rivals have at least 3 different nameplates each in this segment, and if we’d look at total brand volume, Mercedes-Benz would be ahead of BMW by the tiniest of margins (281.348 vs 281.249), both selling Audi by more than 90.000 sales. Then again, Audi also has a smaller model, as you’ll see below, and this A1 coincidentally sells enough units to put Audi back on top by just 5.000 sales (286.532 units).