In March, European sales of passenger cars declined for the first time in 2018 and for the fourth time in 12 months. A loss of -4,7% means 1,83 million cars were sold in Europe this month, traditionally by far the biggest month of the year (see graph), due to the influence of the UK market, where the twice yearly license plate change (now to the “18” registrations) pushes car sales to a peak. As a result, the UK is the biggest market in Europe in March, taking 25,8% of the total market compared to just over 16% over the whole year. The 15,7% decline in UK car sales this month represents 87% of the total European loss as the rest of the European markets combined were down by just 0,9% in March. Among the major markets, new car sales also declined in Italy (-5,8%) and Germany (-3,4%), but France (+2,2%) and Spain (+2,1%) posted growth.
The fastest growing markets (albeid from a low base) were Cyprus (+35,2%), Lithuania (+34,5%), Hungary (+28,5%) and Slovenia (+20,1%), while the biggest losers behind the UK were Denmark (-13,2%), Iceland (-11,7%) and Ireland (-10,7%). Crossover and SUVs are the only segment to grow with an increase of 12,8% to a record share of 34,4% of the market while car models (hatchbacks, sedans, station wagons, coupes and convertibles) lost 9,9% to 58,1% of the market and MPVs accelerated their decline at -26,4% to just 7,5% of the market.
In the first quarter, European car sales are up just 0,8% to 4,26 million, with Spain (+10,5%) as the biggest contributor, with Germany (+4%) and France (+2,9%) also in the black, while deliveries of passenger cars declined in Italy (-1,5%) and most notably the UK (-12,4%). The new EU member states showed strong growth of 11.9% so far this year. Crossover sales are up 18,7% in Q1, while car models lost 4,3% and MPVs lost 20,7%.
The biggest winner among manufacturers is Hyundai-Kia, but with only just over 5.100 additional sales. Honda and VW Group are the next biggest gainers with both fewer than 1.500 units of sales growth. On the other end of the scale, Ford Motor Company and PSA both lose more than 20.000 sales compared to last year, and Renault-Nissan is down by more than 15.000 sales. Relatively speaking, SAIC Motor is the fastest growing manufacturer, growing by almost 50%, followed by Tesla Motors with a plus of 19,2% and Honda, growing 6,2%. Aston Martin is the big loser, down more than 40% while Tata Motors with its Jaguar and Land Rover brands is down more than 20%. Ford Motor Company is down more than 15% in March.
At brand level, Dacia is the big winner in March with a gain of nearly 5.900 sales, followed by Jeep and Seat both with just over 4.700 additional sales. Ford is the big loser, and Opel/Vauxhall is also down by more than 21.000 sales and Nissan loses over 13.000 sales. It’s not a coincidence all three of these brands have a relatively high dependence on the struggling UK market. Lamborghini is the only brand to more than double up its volume of last year, although Dodge is not far behind. SAIC MG also grows quickly thanks to the addition of the MG ZS crossover. In the losing aisle we find Infiniti with a loss of more than two thirds of its volume and the British upperclass brands Bentley and Aston Martin both down by more than 40%.
As expected, Ford is the #2 brand in March, due to its relatively high share of sales in the UK, but that dependence also means its sales take a big hit, and the same can be said of Opel/Vauxhall which outsells Peugeot for the first time since last September but is down 16,3% on last year. In fact, Volkswagen and Peugeot are the only brands in the top-10 to improve their volumes on last year, both at +2,5%. In the second half of the top-10, Mercedes-Benz increases the gap to BMW and Audi. Nissan shows a similar effect as the other brands with high UK dependence: a relatively high share and/or position relative to their YTD performance, but a big year-on-year loss. Dacia and Seat are the big winners in the top-15 with double digit gains, while Jeep and Mitsubishi outperform the rest of the top-25. In contrast, Land Rover and Jaguar both plunge, and Lancia-Chrysler and Maserati do even more so.
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