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VW puts Ford and the rest under pressure

Where once there was Renault, now there is Volkswagen. After 18 months during which the French company dominated growth in new-car registrations, the official SMMT figures for the first six months of 1999 show how powerful the German company has become.

Volkswagen registrations - and there is no reason to believe they are not proper sales - are up by more than 51% and Golf is the fastest growing single range in the market. Across all the sectors in which it competes, VW has strong products with stable market shares and has newcomers, such as Lupo and Bora, still coming on stream.

Renault has not gone away. Most of the growth in the first-half of last year came from Megane Scenic and, naturally enough, sales are now levelling off. Laguna is beginning to fade in the face of an increasingly competitive D-sector, but new Clio is coming through strongly - though doubts remain as to how many were being preregistered by major dealer groups.

At the head of the market, Ford continues to lose market share; partly because of the staggered launch of Focus but also because of the continued fragmentation of the market as a whole. In this context, Vauxhall's performance is more impressive with its share significantly up and Astra and Corsa performing particularly well.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Focus is the best performing newcomer in the first six months. Peugeot's 206 has also stormed onto the scene, though 106 and 306 sales have suffered as a result. Perhaps more significantly Mercedes A-class, Toyota Yaris and Daewoo Matiz are the next three best performers in the newcomer category.

Medium and luxury car sales are being squeezed with less company cars on the road and user-chooser customers opting for more interesting transport. Off-roaders and two-door coupes (including BMW 3 Series) appear to be benefiting.

The growth in MPVs seems to have stalled - a year ago this sector was rising at 19%, now it is up 2%.

(Data follows the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders' classification of models by sector. All comparisons are January-June 1999 against January-June 1998.)

A-sector The growth is here but from a small base and, presumably, a limited market. Fiat Seicento is performing better than the old Cinquecento did but the new generation is led by Daewoo Matiz and Hyundai Atoz. The SMMT puts Ford Ka in the B-sector and Mercedes A-class in the C-sector - both are outselling the official A-sector leaders.

B-sector Fiesta and, to a lesser extent, Corsa are under attack from Renault Clio and Peugeot 206 which have helped grow the sector as a whole. Peugeot has lost three-door 106 sales as customers switch to the more stylish, new model. Otherwise this sector is remarkably stable though new Fiat Punto should have an effect towards the end of the year and, in the middle order, cars such as Toyota Yaris, Volkswagen Lupo and Seat Arosa are beginning to come through. These should develop as more engines and trim variants become available. In terms of percentage share, the sector has recovered from the loss of Rover 100 two years ago.

C-sector Focus has replaced Escort at the top of the table and the combined market share of the two models would give Ford about 2% growth. But Golf and Astra are both performing strongly and Focus is going to have to work hard to hang onto its dominant position. Dealers are under orders to shift metal. Meanwhile, Megane has settled back as the range matures and finds a more natural sales level. The sector as a whole - the largest in the market - is stable with a growth rate reflecting overall sales.

D-sector Under attack from the taxman, well-specified smaller cars and more interesting user-chooser vehicles, such as off-roaders and coupes, the D-sector is losing ground. This is a battle the carmakers will not want to lose, so customer retention to a brand - rather than a particular model range - is all important. Mondeo, Vectra, Laguna and 406 have all lost sales. Only BMW 3 Series has gained. At the top of the table, Vectra has unseated Mondeo and, in the past few months, Ford has responded with price cuts, a well-specced Mondeo Zetec for the retail customer and some attractive finance offers. Year-end figures will reveal whether it will be enough.

E-sector Influenced, like the D-sector, by the company car market, sales in upper-medium executive cars are slipping away. Even the normally resilient Mercedes C-class and E-class are suffering. Mercedes CLK and Jaguar S-Type are the only bright spots in a generally gloomy picture.

F-sector If you are not a Jaguar dealer, don't bother - though remarkably, there are more customers for Mercedes S-class than ever before.

Off-road News of the death of off-roaders is premature. The sector is proving remarkably resilient, thanks to Freelander, new Discovery and trendy numbers such as Honda HR-V. Mercedes M-class has also made significant inroads. Convertible New Mazda MX-5 has seen off the MGF which is now coming under attack from BMW Z Series. These three are clear of the rest.

Coupe A 'catch-all' category which includes BMW 3 Series Coupe alongside Ford Puma and Renault Megane. The success story is Ford Cougar, almost certainly taking sales off mainstream company models such as Mondeo.

MPV A saturated market dominated by Ford Galaxy and Chrysler Voyager. How long Peugeot, Fiat and Citroen continue with their joint offering must be open to question.

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