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Market trends: September sales – the fleet factor

The whole industry knows about the disaster that was September, but the headline figure only tells part of the story. 

By comparing the performance of fleet and retail sales in each segment, it becomes possible to see where manufacturers were pushing the market particularly hard.

First of all, the overall figures. The fleet market was down by 16.1% in September compared to a fall of 23.7% for the retail market. 

Thus, you would expect each segment to have fared a bit worse for retail sales than for fleet – any major variations from this pattern are worthy of investigation. 

Apart from city cars, whose sales actually rose in response to high fuel prices, all segments saw an overall fall in sales. 

Supermini and lower medium models behaved as expected, but there was a far bigger fall than the market average in retail upper medium compared to fleet sales. 

Interestingly, the variance was even more marked for compact executive models. It appears that manufacturers were forcing the sales of these models. 

Looking across the two segments, it is easier to identify the handful of models that did not see a disproportionate fall in retail sales.

The new Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class did pretty well in keeping the balance steady, as did the VW Passat, but all the other big sellers had noticeably bigger falls in retail sales than in fleet sales.

There are likely to be a lot of pre-registered large saloons cluttering up the forecourts for a while to come. 

However, the oddest figure comes from luxury sports, fleet sales of which apparently increased in September. A typical example was the Aston Martin Vantage, whose retail sales fell by more than 40%, but whose fleet sales went up.

Similarly, the Jaguar XK8 saw a fractional increase in fleet sales, but a 40% fall in retail sales.

How this was achieved remains to be seen. 

There was no variance in the performance of off-roaders between fleet and retail.

With a drop of just above 40% in both markets, the pain was spread equally: it seems that the conditions were so bad, there was no point trying to force fleet sales to make up for slumping retail demand. 

However, this does not seem to have been true for all segments, which is worrying.

If fleet sales were being pushed even harder than usual, that suggests that the market has further to fall.

No wonder some manufacturers have ann-ounced production cutbacks far in excess of the actual sales fall this year.

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