The European car market declined by 7% in April 2017 as a collapsing UK market exacerbated a general slowdown across the continent which was caused by having fewer selling days than in 2016 due to a late Easter. Still, the almost 1,22 million cars sold in April is still slightly better than the same month in 2015. As mentioned, the biggest culprit of the decline is the British market, which declined by almost 20% on last year as the result of an increase in the Vehicle Excise Duty tax which came in effect on April 1st in the UK. Another part of the explanation for the plummeting sales is that Easter fell in April this year instead of in March, which means dealers had fewer selling days in 2017. Combined sales of March and April are still up by 2,9% on 2016. The UK market is expected to stabilize as the year proceeds, as the effect of the tax raise will wither away. The Year-to-date figure now stands at 5,44 million units, an increase of 4% on the first four months of 2016.
Of the big markets, only the Spanish market grew in April (+1,1%), as the UK posted a double-digit drop (-19,8%) and Germany (-8%), France (-6%) and Italy (-4,6%) also lost volume. This was balanced by positive contributions from the so-called EU-12 countries (+8.2%), the member states that have joined the EU since 2004. The fastest growing market was Croatia (+29,6%), while Ireland was the biggest loser at -24,5%.
If the brands that are traditionally strong in the UK had a great month in March, April is payback time for them, as now they’re suffering from a contraction of that market to less than a third of the month before. That’s right, the UK market was the biggest of the continent in March at 562.000 sales, but in April it was down tho #4 with jsut 152.000 sales. Over the course of an entire year, the UK makes up about 18% of total European sales, but in March this number rises to close to 30% and in April it’s down to just 12,5%. As a result, you will see the brand ranking also hurts the brands that are relatively stronger in the UK than in the rest of Europe, which includes Ford, Opel/Vauxhall, Nissan and the British brands. For example Ford loses 2 percentage points of market share on March and Jaguar–Land Rover almost halves its market share of the previous month.
In the first quarter, only three manufacturers lost volume, but the tables have turned in April as only 6 out of 21 manufacturers enjoyed sales growth this month, of which only one in the top-10. Surprisingly, small player Suzuki is the biggest gainer in absolute volume terms, followed by Toyota Motor Company and Tesla Motors. In terms of relative growth the three manufacturers that led the way in March also do so in April: Aston Martin, Tesla Motors and DRB-Hicom were the fastest growing manufacturs. The latter has recently sold a majority share in the Lotus sports car brand to Geely, also the owner of Volvo. When the deal has been finalized, the Malaysian manufacturer will lose its presence in Europe, as Proton cars are no longer sold in the UK.
Looking at the losers, we see that in terms of absolute volume Volkswagen Group takes the biggest hit in April, followed by PSA (including Opel) and Renault-Nissan (including Mitsubishi), while Subaru Corporation, Honda and SAIC MG are the fastest declining manufacturers, each losing more than a fifth of their volumes.
At brand level, Ford was the big volume winner last month, but is now on the other side of the scale, as only Volkswagen and Opel/Vauxhall lose more units than their American rival. Similarly, Infiniti has been among the fastest growing brands in recent months including a double up just last month, but in April the brand took a big hit and is among the fastest declining brands, along the likes of DS and Chevrolet (and Bugatti which went down from 2 sales to one). Winning brands in April are Seat, Alfa Romeo and Suzuki in absolute terms, and Aston Martin, Alfa Romeo and Maserati in relative terms.
There are few changes in the year-to-date winners and losers rankings, but most significantly Volkswagen Group has been kicked out of the top-3 of biggest gainers by FCA Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota Motor, while Renault-Nissan remains the manufacturer who has added the most volume in the first four months of the year, despite its loss in April. In relative growth, Aston Martin doubles up thanks to the DB11 and and Tesla almost does so too thanks to the Model X. Suzuki grows almost 25%. On the other end of the scale, the only manufacturers to lose volume so far in 2017 are Honda, Mazda and Subaru Corporation.
Biggest winners among brands during the first three months of the year are Toyota thanks to the C-HR, followed by Mercedes-Benz and Fiat, while in relative terms Maserati is among the fastest growing brands in Europe now. Volkswagen is the big loser in absolute terms while DS has lost the biggest chunk of its volume relative terms.
In April, the entire top-10 brands are down on last year, and market leader Volkswagen loses almost a full percentage point of share, while Ford and Opel/Vauxhall (both more than average dependent on the weak UK market) also show double digit losses. The latter drops two places to Peugeot and Mercedes-Benz (which is down by just 8 units). As a result, Peugeot reaches its highest ranking since February 2016. Nissan was close to dethroning Toyota as the best selling Asian brand in Europe in 2015, but so far in 2017 the latter has re-emerged as the Japanese behemoth that it is worldwide: Toyota outsold Nissan by a whopping 14.500 units in April, the biggest gap between the two brands since 2010, together with last January, when there was a similar gap. As a result, Nissan is leapfrogged by both Dacia and Kia to its lowest ranking since last August and is the #4 Asian brand in April behind Toyota, Hyundai and Kia. Again, this is also a result of Nissan‘s relative strength in the UK market, which was exceptionally weak this month. Further down the ranking, Alfa Romeo climbs 4 spots while DS loses “just” 2 places.
Year-to-date, Volkswagen drops into negative growth, as does its sister brand Audi, and Renault reduces the gap to #2 Ford by more than half to just 10.000 units. Opel/Vauxhall also drops into red figures for the first time under PSA ownership. Skoda leapfrogs Nissan to reclaim 11th place, while Suzuki passes Mazda to become the #3 Japanese brand in Europe. Mini is back above Land Rover and Jaguar enjoyed its place above Alfa Romeo for just one brief month as the Italian brand reclaims 27th place. At the bottom end of the top-40, relaunched Russian brand Lada gains another spot by outsells Chinese rival SAIC-MG again and could finish the year ahead of the revived British brand for the first time since the latter introduced the MG3. Both brands are available in a limited number of markets but are looking to expand their presence in Europe in the coming years.
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