December 2014 automobile sales in Europe increased 4,8%, which means car sales have increased every single month in 2014, for the first time in at least a decade. The full year 2014 increase stood at 5,25% to 12,94 million units, making it the best year of the last three years, but also still the third-worst since at least 1997. The UK market has been one of the biggest contributors to this growth, making up about a third of the whole continent’s added volume last year. And as the UK market is showing signs of a slowdown of its growth, and key markets like France and Germany seem unable to pick up speed, I don’t expect 2015 to become a blockbuster year like 2014 has been for North American autodealers.
Only seven major brands saw their sales decrease on 2013, while 22 brands grew faster than the market. Of the 2014 winners, Jeep (+69,5%) is expected to continue its impressive run in 2015, fueled by early signs of success from the small crossover Jeep Renegade, while Lexus will continue to reap the benefits of the NX compact premium SUV and Infiniti (+76%) should take profit from the addition of the Q30 compact premium car and QX30 compact premium SUV in the second half of the year.
Of the 2014 losers, Chevrolet (-73,4%) will continue to sink further before being officially killed at the end of the year, while DS (-23%) suffers from a lack of focus on the European market as the brand is trying to establish itself in the large and profitable Chinese market. The decline of Alfa Romeo seems to slow down at -8,3%, but the Giulia midsized sedan won’t arrive until the fourth quarter, while Lancia’s future remains in doubt, even despite sales down “only” 3,5% in 2014. On the other hand, Honda (-5,1%) should benefit from a new generation Jazz and the addition of the HR-V in the hot small crossover segment, while Smart (-14,4%) already bounced back up in December at +67,4% thanks to the third generation Fortwo and the addition of the Forfour.
Renault-Nissan and Volkswagen Group have been the big winners in 2014, each accounting for about one third of the growth of the market as a whole. In fact, Renault and Dacia where the in first and second place for adding the most volume in 2014, followed by Skoda and Volkswagen, with Seat not far behind. As a result, Skoda has leapfrogged Toyota to take 11th place in the European brand ranking, in a similar fashion as Dacia took 15th place from Kia.
Renault ended 2014 still in third place, but only 8.500 units behind Opel/Vauxhall as both brands continue to launch new products in 2015, with the Espace large MPV and Kadjar midsized crossover for the French brand and the updated Corsa and new Opel Karl/Vauxhall Viva entry-level car for GM. I expect Renault to surpass Opel/Vauxhall in 2015 and both brands to eat away at Ford’s lead in Europe’s second place.
Nissan has almost chopped Toyota’s lead as the best-selling Asian brand in half to less than 50.000 units after adding more than 56.000 units of volume in 2014. The new generations Qashqai and Juke, and the compact hatchback Pulsar should help Nissan to close the gap even further, as Toyota has a new-product drought this year after facelifting the Yaris introducing the second generation Aygo last year. The Avensis will be facelifted in the second half of 2015 as well, but Toyota hasn’t yet decided on the future of its midsized model beyond the current generation, as the midsized segment in Europe is suffering.
In the luxury battle, the German Big 3 are edging closer to each other, with Mercedes-Benz the fastest growing of the three at 5,2%, while Audi grew slower than the overall market at 3,9%. But the huge domination of the Germans is starting to show some cracks as the competition is heating up.
Volvo increased at twice the speed of Mercedes-Benz and BMW at +10,3%, while Land Rover and Jaguar also outpaced the Big 3 at +6,3% and +6,8% respectively. Land Rover even racked up its third consecutive year of record sales in Europe. But the Japanese luxury brands grew the fastest, as Lexus and Infiniti grew by 30,4% and 76% respectively. Lexus even managed to take back the position it lost to Jaguar last year. Undoubtedly Jaguar will strike back in 2015 with its all-new midsized sedan XE.
Surprisingly, after last selling 1 unit in January, Proton managed to sell 10 units in the UK in December, making it 11 for the whole year. Is this the beginning of a revival of the Malaysian brand? Likewise, Dutch supercar maker Spyker sold 2 cars in December to finish 2014 with 4 sales, all the while having been in bankruptcy since December 15th, from which it has surprisingly arisen again in January. And even the discontinued Maybach brand managed to sell 2 units in December to make it 3 for the year.
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