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Ford and Vauxhall lose out in a declining sector

I am showing my age here, but my first industry column was called “Death of the Barge” about how the likes of the Scorpio and Omega were doomed in the face of premium executive models.

Now we seem to be facing the death of the cars that were meant to replace them in volume manufacturers’ ranges: the upper medium models.

Market share so far this year fell to just 6.2%, making upper-medium cars less popular than city cars or SUVs.

Since 1995, the upper-medium seg-ment has lost an average of one percentage point every year – a trend positively Rover-like in its grim trajectory.

Both the main contenders in the segment, the Mondeo and Insignia, will sell about the same this year as the 30,000-35,000 that the Granada Scorpio/Omega used to sell in the
late 1980s.

However, it is interesting how differently the two companies approach the issue. Vauxhall appears to be carpet-bombing the sector: three bodystyles, 4wd options, V6 options and numerous trim levels mean there are no fewer than 160 different versions of the Insignia (if you take the automatic as a different version).

In comparison, there are just 48 Mondeos using the same counting method. Currently, the Insignia is outselling the Mondeo by about 10%, but I suspect that if you asked Ford whether they would trade a 10% increase in sales for a threefold rise in model complexity, they might politely decline. In fact, you cannot buy a Mondeo saloon in the UK any longer, a remarkable turnaround for the company that invented the three-box D segment car.

Wherever you look in this segment, weird statistics jump out at you.

It is hard to know which is odder: the fact that the Mazda6 now outsells all three French contenders combined, or the fact that the Skoda Superb now outsells the Renault Laguna.

It seems that in this declining segment any car that stumbles gets the most brutal beating.

The top five models now account for 84.8% of the whole segment, leaving 10 cars to fight over the other 15,000 sales so far this year.

So is there any hope at all for this segment? After all, there are only two European markets that really matter for this size of car – Germany and the UK – and Germany is not much more enthusiastic than we are.

In fact, upper-medium could be saved by globalisation. The original Mondeo was meant to be a world car, but its US brothers, the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, looked overpriced and undersized to Americans.

The next Mondeo will go back to America and any upper-medium model that wants to survive is going to have to go global as well, whether it is to the USA, China or both. Europe is just not big enough anymore.

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