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Market trends: Quarter one review

With the current focus on CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, the first quarter’s registration figures are being scanned for signs of downsizing.

There is no real sign of a stampede to smaller cars (see table). Even if the green issue did not exist, one would expect city car and supermini segments to be growing at present simply because there has been a peak in new model activity over the last year or so.

Lower medium, the heartland of the family car market, has also grown slightly, suggesting that there is no long-term trend in favour of superminis.

It is true that upper medium has fallen sharply, but then that has been true for virtually every one of the last 10 years, so that is hardly news. One aspect that is news is the pasting French manufacturers are taking in this segment: Peugeot 407 sales are down by 46% and combined sales of the 407, Laguna and C5 are now below those of the Volkswagen Passat.

However, one segment that is growing unexpectedly is executive. So far this year, it has risen from 2.9% to 3.2%, its highest level since 2000. In this case, there has no been huge new model activity, with just the facelifted E-class to raise interest.

Sales of off-roaders are now unmistakeably on the way down – at least for the prestige models. Sales of such are down by 18.8% this year.

Every manufacturer has seen a decline in sales – even Land Rover, whose new V8 diesel Range Rover has not managed to offset declining sales of the Discovery.

Even the new Audi Q7 has not provided the segment with much of a boost, despite taking around 10% of prestige off-road sales.

Nevertheless, hedonism is alive and well. One of the best performing segments has been luxury sports, whose penetration has gone up from 1.4% to 1.6%. Both Aston Martin (all models) and Bentley (Continental GT) have seen sales increases while, at a more modest level, the facelifted BMW Z4 has trebled sales to 1,500.

This seems to have been at the expense of previously impregnable Porsche, which has seen a sales decline of 22% in the Boxster/Cayman.

The best-performing segment of all has been MPV. Penetration has leapt from 1.4% to 1.9%, with a volume increase of 36.6%.

The reason for this sudden popularity can be summed up in one word – Ford. Its segment share has gone up from 18.0% to 50.5%. Galaxy is doing well, with 23.8%, but the big news is the S-Max, with 26.7%.

Percentage change Q1 2007 vs Q1 2006

Despite a lot of hype, there is no real sign of a stampede to smaller cars. Most of the increase in city car and supermini sales can be explained by the model cycle.

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