However, looking at a wider perspective can also help explain what goes on in this country so, for one week only, let’s take a look at the long-term trends across Europe.
Firstly, virtually every European volume brand has lost share. Over the last 10 years, only Peugeot and Citroën have increased penetration. Even then, the Peugeot figure is slightly misleading: 1996 was a particularly bad year as it was shortly before the launch of the 206 and Peugeot’s share in the first half of 2006 was its lowest since 1999.
Only Citroën, thanks to an expanding model range, can point to significantly higher market share than 10 years ago.
Secondly, the Asian brands are on the warpath. Toyota and Hyundai have both doubled, Kia has exploded on to the market and only Mitsubishi and Nissan have managed to lose share.
Mitsubishi is facing a worldwide crisis – particularly in America – while Nissan has rather taken its eye off the European ball. Despite its British factory, its bumper profits in the USA and Japan have meant that Europe has been a lower priority. Nissan has been happy to concentrate on niche vehicles in the SUV segments, although it may be about to counter-attack in the mainstream family car market.
Thirdly, German prestige brands have taken chunks out of the volume brands: Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have all increased share.
The worst performance has come from the Italian brands, although 2006 actually represents something of a recovery for Fiat. In 2005, before Grande Punto, the company was down to just 4.8% market share, a full percentage point below the figure for 2006 year to date.
Alfa, which peaked at 1.4% in 2001 on the back of the 156, is below where it started. Having reached 200,000 per year, it fell to less than 130,000 in 2005: the 159 has a tough job on its hands.
Meanwhile Lancia has fallen even further. The company plans to return to the UK with a new range of cars, including the pretty Fulvietta coupé, on the assumption that we have now forgotten all about the marque’s disastrous British history.
Amid all the gloom for European volume car makers, one should raise a glass to Škoda, which has almost quadrupled market share to 2% on the back of the Fabia and Octavia.
Škoda has recently announced a milestone even more significant than its sales figures. Last week, it announced its profits – up more than 30%, with a margin of over 6%. That may not sound huge in its own right, but it makes Škoda the most profitable volume car company in Europe at the moment.
Škoda makes a better margin on its cars than Peugeot, Renault or even Mercedes – not to mention parent VW.
Nowadays Škoda can afford a patronizing smile at companies that once thought of it as a joke.