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Market trends: Small family car triumphs

There is no doubt which segment was the star performer of last year: lower-medium exceeded 35% of the total market, the first time since 1987, when the car market was far less fragmented than it is today.

The plethora of new superminis over the last couple of years (Renault Clio, Peugeot 207, Vauxhall Corsa) has had no effect on the rise of the small family car, and the forthcoming facelift of the Ford Focus can only help the cause.

It is the Goldilocks segment – not too big, not too small, but just right.

Not that it was just right for everyone. Surprise casualties included the Volvo C30 (4,000 registrations), which was outsold even by the geriatric Mercedes C-Class Coupé, and the Honda FR-V, at less than 3,000 units.

However, on the plus side, Honda did have the absolute star of the segment – the Dan Dare Civic, which at 45,000 registrations is now comfortably ahead of any Citroën, Peugeot or Renault lower- medium model.

As if the rise of the lower-medium segment was not bad enough for mainstream superminis, there is also a cuckoo in their own nest. Mini has gone from being a niche product to a very serious player: 2007 registrations were up 25.3% to almost 48,000.

That is more than such stalwarts as the VW Polo and Fiat Punto – and more than double the Nissan Micra.

In the last quarter, it even managed to outsell the Renault Clio to take fourth place in the segment – a once unthinkable advance. Suddenly, ‘niche’ is looking very mainstream indeed. On the other side of the coin, it was another bad year for upper-medium models.

We now take the decline of non-premium large family saloons for granted, but it is interesting to see how consolidation is taking place in this segment.

Ford and Vauxhall are managing the decline well, VW is using its semi-premium positioning to advantage and Toyota and Mazda are doing reasonable business. Pretty well everyone else looks like a small dinghy in a heavy sea.

The Peugeot 407 – which was in third place in this segment as recently as 2000 – is down 39% and is now behind the Mazda6.

Whereas the top five models in lower-medium take 46.6% of the segment (and the corresponding figure for superminis is 53.1%) for upper-medium it is a whopping 81.6%. The result is that 38,000 sales per year are being fought over by 13 current competitors.

That will definitely prove unlucky for some.

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