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Mainstream hatchbacks lose sales to MPVs

New car buyers in Western Europe will be offered many more body styles in the most popular class, the Golf class, as sales of standard hatchbacks continue to decline, according to R.L. Polk Europe.

The company’s latest report, 'Golf class cars for Western Europe until 2010', says that compact MPVs and retractable hardtops have already affected the sales of mainstream hatchbacks.

In 1990, three in four cars sold in this sector were hatchbacks. By 2003, they made up around 50% and that share will decrease further until 2010. However, R. L. Polk Europe predicts hatchbacks will continue to be the most popular body style in this class.

The rise of compact MPVs, such as the Vauxhall/Opel Zafira, Renault Scénic and Citroen Xsara Picasso, will peak next year at 28 per cent of the segment and level out at 25 per cent by 2010.

Opel, Fiat, Hyundai, Volkswagen and Renault plan to introduce off-roaders in this class for 2005 model year, and this should see off-road models take about 5 per cent share in 2010, up from 1.1 per cent last year.

Retractable hardtops are also a clear growth area due to the number of new models scheduled for launch and the appeal they have for buyers. At present, only Peugeot and Renault offer these.

The lower middle-market will continue to be the most important in Western Europe until 2010, accounting for around 33% of sales, or 3.8 to 5.3 million units each year depending on total annual sales. Most carmakers now have a stake in this sector. In 1990, only 25 manufacturers offered cars in the lower middle-market.

By 1997 there were seven more including premium brands such as Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. This development produced a flood of new models, which reached its peak last year with 109 models in this class.

'Strong competition forces manufacturers to search continuously for new ideas which will appeal to buyers, who are becoming more sophisticated and demand ever more from their cars,' says Ulrich Winzen, chief analyst at R. L. Polk Europe.

'Renault energised this lower middle-market segment with the first generation Mégane Scénic in 1996 and manufacturers will continue to look for new concepts attract customers. If the lower middle-market will continue to be called 'Golf'-class remains to be seen.'

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