Segments shrinks by a fifth and ends 2017 at the bottom of the mainstream heap
Sales in the US minicar segment fell by 9.6% to 22,199 in the fourth quarter of 2017. This makes it the third quarter in a row that sales in the segment have declined, although the rate of decline was considerably slower than in either Q2 or Q3, when the segment shrunk by 43% and 27%, respectively. Overall, the segment shrunk by 20.0% in 2017, thesecond fastest rate of decline among the mainstream segments, behind only the subcompact segment. Ironically given its decline, it is also the only mainstream segment to register positive growth in any quarter in 2017 (it grew by 9.3% in Q1), though that says more about the malaise the mainstream segments are in than anything else.
Going into 2018, the prospects for a recovery in the minicar segment are rather grim. All the cars in the segment are either new (Mini Cooper, Chevrolet Spark, Smart ForTwo) or have recently been facelifted (Mitsubishi Mirage, Fiat 500), meaning they are unlikely to see big sales rises, while the prospects of new models are seriously hampered by the segment’s decline and tiny size (by US standards). In fact, the only factor that might lead to a recovery in the segment’s fortune would be a drastic upturn in the price of gas, and that is neither likely nor desirable for the market overall.
- After recording good sales growth of 8.0% in the final quarter of the year, the Mini Cooper range finished 2017 at the top of the segment, a position it occupied in 2015 before being overtaken by Chevrolet Spark in 2016
- The small Chevy finally bounced back from its horrendous performance in Q2 and Q3’17 to record growth of 11.8% in the final quarter of the year, the highest from among all models in the segment, though that was too little to late keep it ahead of it Anglo-German rival in the final annual ranking
- It was, however, enough to put it just ahead of Mitsubishi Mirage, which after topping the segment in the first three quarters of the year fell down to third place in the year’s overall rankings, due in large part to the 10.7% sales decline in the final quarter of the year; still, at least the Mirage’s facelift seems to have given it a second wind, making it the only model in the segment to gain sales in 2017
- The same cannot be said for the facelifted Fiat 500, which started the year well with positive sales growth, only to see its sales decline at an increasing rate in the following quarters, culminating in a loss decline of 41.3% in Q4’17; long gone are its glory days, when it sold over 40,000 units in a year and topped the segment in 2012
- Not that it will make FCA happy, but at least the 500’s sales drop-off is not as drastic as that experienced by the third-generation Smart ForTwo, whose sales figures have been declining at an increasing rate, to the point that in Q4’17 it lost almost four-fifths of its sales compared to 2016 – it definitely wins the wooden spoon award in the segment
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