So it is something of a surprise to discover that the Nissan Note outsells the Renault Modus by more than 4:1 (8,800 against 1,900 YTD). The Note is the UK’s best-selling supermini MPV, outselling (just) the Vauxhall Meriva (8,400).
Other unlikely sales results have come from the Ford Fusion (widely derided at launch but still selling 6,900 YTD) and the Fiat Idea (a decent car that Fiat has quietly dropped from its UK line-up, having sold fewer than 1,000 last year).
So what is going on, when Nissan can take leadership, Renault can sell very few and Fiat cannot compete at all? Meanwhile, how can Ford shift decent numbers of a car that nearly everyone thought would sink without trace? The answer seems to be that buyers of such cars have very limited tolerance when it comes to paying a premium.
When the Ford Fusion was launched, the communication was all about funky young people with active lifestyles – now it is essentially sold as a Fiesta estate for people who need a compact car with plenty of space. If many of those people happen to be 55-plus and would not know a snowboard from a plank, so be it. A premium of £850 for the extra space seems a reasonable deal.
In contrast, the Modus was launched with a price premium of £1,500 over the equivalent Clio, too much for most potential buyers. Modus prices have been brought into line subsequently, but customers seem to have long since dismissed the car as a serious candidate.
The problem with both the Modus and the Idea was that their manufacturers thought they were making very small MPVs. Renault had been successful with both the Espace and the Scenic and thought, perfectly logically, that it could repeat the same formula with the Modus.
However, in such a price-sensitive market, different rules apply. The Note works because it offers quantifiably more interior space for around £800 more than a Micra, whereas the Modus only offers more vertical height. The Fusion works because it is essentially a small estate car with a modern profile.
And what of the successful Meriva? It might have the overall length of a super-mini, but it has a longer wheelbase than an Astra hatch, thus offering families on a budget a genuinely spacious car – whereas the Modus has features, the Meriva has benefits.
2007 supermini MPV sales
Supermini MPV is no guarantee for success as the graph shows – though Nissan and Vauxhall may disagree