The European car market grew by an impressive 11,4% in March to 1.643.607 units, pushing up the Year-To-Date increase to 8,2% at over 3,6 million cars sold. This is the largest monthly year-over-year gain in at least five years and possibly a decade, indicating the recovery of the European car market is picking up speed.
March sales are traditionally skewed towards brands that are popular in the United Kingdom, as this is the kingdom’s biggest selling month of the year thanks to the bi-annual license plate change-over. Brands that benefit more than others are Ford, Opel-Vauxhall, Nissan, Jaguar-Land Rover and Mini. For example, Nissan moves ahead of Toyota to become Europe’s best selling Asian brand, like it did in March 2014. However, Nissan now also outsells Toyota year-to-date thanks to its strong March sales, and this is the first time it does so in the 21st century.
Volkswagen Group and Renault-Nissan are still the biggest volume winners, with VW now also leading the way year-to-date. In March, PSA also joined the top-3 of fast-growing manufacturers, while General Motors is the only manufacturer to lose sales compared to March of last year.
Relatively, DRB-Hicom adds 90,8% thanks to its Lotus sports car brand, as its Malaysian Proton brand still hasn’t notched up a single sale this year. Another UK-only brand, SAIC MG of China also grows quickly, followed by Mitsubishi Motors.
At the brand level, the same brands that have been adding the most volume this year, also do so in March, with VW, Nissan and Renault leading the way, while Chevrolet, DS and Lancia-Chrysler are among the biggest losers. Thanks to its increase of 12,4% vs. 4,3% for Opel/Vauxhall, Renault holds on to its third place year-to-date, despite being traditionally outsold by the dual-brand in March (thanks to the UK-market), while the all-new Kadjar midsized crossover and new generations of the Megane and Scenic model families should help the French further. Opel/Vauxhall can counter with the all-new Opel Karl / Vauxhall Viva minicar and the facelifted Corsa, so the fight will be interesting to follow for the rest of this year.
Jeep continues its winning streak as the fastest growing brand at more than tripling its volume, followed by Infiniti and Lamborghini, also both at least doubling their still small volumes. In fact, both Infiniti and Lamborghini score a record month in Europe at 525 and 90 sales respectively. At Lambo, it’s the new Huracan as the replacement to the Gallardo that’s pulling the brand, but at Infiniti, all four of its models show a year-over-year increase, even the ancient QX50. On the other end of the scale, Chevrolet is getting comfortable carrying the red lantern in preparation of its official departure from the market, while Tata and Great Wall also lose significant portions of their volumes in the few European countries where they are available.
Mercedes-Benz outsells BMW for the second time this year and is creeping ever so close to its arch rival year-to-date. Mercedes has a shot at finishing 2015 ahead of BMW for the first time since 2009.
Year-to-date, the picture is very similar to the month of March, with Daimler in third place of biggest winners as a Group, while Honda and Suzuki join GM in the losers’ corner. At the brand level, SAIC MG keeps growing more than 50% after its record year in 2014, while Aston Martin, Fuji Heavy Industries and Honda take the biggest relative hits.
Brands-wise, I already discussed Renault moving ahead of Opel/Vauxhall and Mercedes-Benz creeping close behind BMW and Nissan overtaking Toyota, but also noteworthy is Toyota grabbing back its position above Skoda after losing that place last year, and Mini and Land Rover overtaking Honda. Mini already outsold the Japanese brand in 2011, 2012 and 2013, but for Land Rover this is a first time. Jeep moves up 7 spots thanks to the successful launches of the Cherokee and Renegade and the continued success of the Grand Cherokee. Jeep even outsells its family member Alfa Romeo for the first time ever, but to add insult to injury, even Porsche manages the same feat. The introduction of the all-new Giulia midsized sedan better be successful for the Italians, otherwise 2015 could be a very shameful year.
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