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Small proves beautiful in new car market

Usually, analysing the market is a question of which segments are gaining share and which ones are losing it. This year is it more straightforward.

The city car mini segment has risen from 6.9% YTD 2008 to 10.1% YTD 2009 (see graph).

With a rise of more than three percentage points in a year, that means most other segments have seen their penetration – as well as actual sales – fall.

Somewhat weirdly, other growing segments include the SUV and sports car sectors, but more of them later.

The fact that city cars have been the biggest gainers from the scrappage scheme gives a clue as to which cars are being traded in.

They are clearly not generally the first cars of the household: city cars have always been seen as too small to serve as the main car for most people.

Instead, the scrappage scheme is capturing the second or third car of the household – the stereotype being the 10-year-old Astra used for the daily run to the train station.

That is clearly a one-off event: once the scrappage scheme comes to an end, city cars will go back to being a segment with 6% market share, rather than a 10% market share.

It does raise the question of how many used examples will be flooding the market in a few years time, though.

One segment that has suffered much more than one might expect is compact executives: the BMW 3 Series and its ilk.

Normally, one might expect this to benefit from downsizing and people move out of full-size executive models, but not this time. Instead, what seems to happening is a cascade.

Some people are moving out of luxury SUV models back towards executive cars, some executive buyers are moving down to compact models, but the big winners have been premium lower-medium models, such as the Audi A3 and BMW 1 Series.

This sub-segment has increased its market share from 4.0% to 4.5%.

And what of the two surprise segments, SUV and sports cars? The important thing about SUV is that it is a tale of two halves.

Both compact soft-roaders, such as the Ford Kuga and smaller premium models, such as the Volvo XC60 have increased market share, whereas traditional designs like the Nissan Pathfinder and large luxury models, such as the Range Rover, have lost share.

As for sports cars, the reason can be found in one new model – the VW Scirocco.

Along with the Mazda MX-5, the Scirocco virtually is the small sports car sub-segment – unfortunately buyers are not, in fact, taking solace from the recession by buying more sporty cars.

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