A record 1,92 million new cars were sold in Europe in March 2017. This is an increase of 10,5% over March last year and the highest monthly volume ever recorded. Part of the explanation for the surge in sales is that Easter fell in April this year instead of in March, like last year, which means dealers had extra selling days in 2017. Still, almost 2 million sales in a single month is an impressive figure and it even comes close to the 2,02 million sales in China this same month. March sales are usually around 11,5% of total annual volume, which extrapolates to an expected record 16,7 million sales in 2017. That would be an increase of 10,3% on 2015 and significantly higher than the previous record of 16,1 million sales in 2004.
All five of the big markets showed strong growth in March, with Italy (+18,2%), Spain (+12,6%) and Germany (+11,4%) leading the way with double digit gains, while the UK (+8,4%) and France (+7%) grow slightly slower than te rest of the market. 16 out of the 30 markets showed double digit gains and only 5 lost volume, all in single digits. The fastest growing market was Greece (+49,5%), recovering from its deep recession. In the first quarter, European car sales increased 7,8% to 4,22 million units. Italy was the fastest growing of the big markets at +11,9%.
March is a bit of a freak month for European car sales every year, as it is dominated by the UK market, due to the twice-yearly license plate change, this time to the “17” plates, which affects resales values and therefore incentivizes car buyers to postpone taking delivery of their new car until March. 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%. As a result, you will see the brand ranking also favors 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 adds 2 percentage points of market share on February and Jaguar–Land Rover even doubles its market share.
At brand level, Ford was the big volume winner this month, adding 21.735 sales, ahead of Renault and Mercedes-Benz, while Honda, DS and Mitsubishi lost the most volume of all brands. In relative terms, DS was the biggest loser with a loss of 32%, followed by Mahindra at -30,5% and Dodge, which is not even officially imported to Europe. Infiniti joins Aston Martin and Tesla among the brands that double up, and Rolls Royce gets also a mention for almost doubling its volume on last year.
Year-to-date, Renault-Nissan has already added over 50.000 units to its volume, and Volkswagen Group has added almost 42.000 units.FCA Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles has grown over 38.000 units. In relative growth, Aston Martin and Tesla both double up thanks to the DB11 and Model X, respectively. Suzuki grows almost 30%. On the other end of the scale, the only manufacturers to lose volume in Q1 of 2017 are Honda, Mazda and Fuji Heavy Industries, the latter by just 179 sales.
Biggest winners among brands during the first three months of the year are Toyota thanks to the C-HR, followed by Fiat and Mercedes-Benz, while in relative terms we see Bugatti double up from 1 Veyron last year to 2 Chirons this year. DS is the big loser in Q1, both in absolute terms and in relative terms.
Out of the 52 brands currently on sale in Europe, no less than 26 have sold more cars in March than they’ve ever done in a single month in Europe. We’ll discuss which ones in a separate article on record-breaking March car sales. Market leader Volkswagen is up just 3,9% in March and therefore loses 0,6 percentage points of share. As usual in March, Ford is in a strong second place with sales up 15,9%, but while Renault doesn’t benefit as much from a strong UK market, the French brand still grows 14,9% and outsells Opel/Vauxhall for the first March in at least 5 years. The latter grows only 3,3% and loses 0,4 percentage points of market share on last year. Mercedes-Benz is back into 5th place as the fastest growing brand in the top-10, outselling not only its German luxury rivals but also Peugeot. Fiat, Nissan and Toyota all grow with double digits, with Nissan outselling the latter thanks to the UK market, where it produces most of its cars for the European market. Besides traditionally in March and September, the last time Nissan outsold its Japanese rival was in June 2015 and thanks to the very successful launch of the C-HR, it may not happen again soon, unless the new Micra becomes a bigger hit than anybody could expect. Kia and Seat grow with double digits, both helped by their latest crossover additions Niro and Ateca, and the Spanish brand outsells Dacia for the first time since last November.
Volvo and Land Rover grow by more than 20% and so does small car specialist Suzuki, now ahead of Honda for the 12th consecutive month. Jaguar gains 74% to outsell Mitsubishi for the first time ever. You read that right: Jaguar outsold Mitsubishi in Europe. In all of 2015, Mitsubishi sold 93.500 cars MORE than Jaguar, but in March 2017 the British brand has turned the tables. Of course this is only a temporary phenomenon due to the exceptional UK volume this month, but nonetheless an amazing achievement. Alfa Romeo grows 49% in March thanks to the arrival of the Stelvio and hopes to experience a similar growth curve as Jaguar now that it finally has an SUV too.
Year-to-date, Ford maintains its 2nd place above Renault but is unlikely to hold on to that for the next quarter, as the French brand outgrows it and is traditionally less strong in Q1. Volkswagen is the slowest growing brand in the top-10, followed by Audi and Opel/Vauxhall. Compared to Q1 of last year, Fiat and Mercedes-Benz both leapfrog BMW and Audi, while Toyota is the fastest growing brand in the top-10, kicking Skoda out of that ranking to #12, as the Czech brand is also outsold by Nissan. Honda also loses two positions, to Land Rover and Mini. Jaguar and Alfa Romeo are going to have an interesting heads-up battle against each other this year. Does anyone care to predict a winner? Lada enters the top-40 as the Russian brand is making a revival in Europe, even though it has a new sedan in showrooms with the Vesta, the brand’s best seller remains the antediluvian cult-SUV Niva.
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