The devils in the detail: ACEAs monthly market stats have revealed winners and losers in the European market

The devil's in the detail: ACEA's monthly market stats have revealed winners and losers in the European market

New car sales numbers for 28 European markets* released by ACEA reveal some telling examples of which brands are on the up, and which ones are in decline. Glenn Brooks dives into the figures and looks at the reasons behind the latest trends.

From a US, Japanese or Chinese perspective, hearing that Honda has been reduced to the status of a minor player in the world’s largest regional market is unfathomable. And yet, it’s now reality. For the four months to the end of April, Honda Motor Europe sold only 58,971 cars, with sales down 34% last month (year-on-year) in an overall market that fell by only 3.8%. In the same period, 205,663 Toyotas were sold. The total for Citroën, 57,617, was more or less the same as Honda. Trouble is, that’s the number of cars PSA’s number two brand sold in April alone. In Germany, Honda sold 2,023 cars last month. Porsche sold 1,803.

Honda is a curious case. How can the same company which clearly listens to every word that its US division has told HQ in Japan for decades fail to have taken note of what Honda Europe has surely been pleading for, for years? A small diesel engine would be a good start – currently a 2.2-litre unit is the one-size fits all solution for the Accord, CR-V and Civic and that means uncompetitive CO2 numbers in most EU markets. At least those cars can be ordered with a diesel; not so in the case of the slow-selling Jazz, which now boasts a petrol-electric powertrain instead. The new Civic, complete with what will be only the second-ever Honda diesel, a 1.5-litre unit, can’t come soon enough – it should finally appear in 2012 or late 2011 at a pinch.

Of course as can be clearly seen by the pricing for the Accord and the resultant sales numbers, Honda is trying unsuccessfully to become a near-premium make in Europe. The shame of the brand’s ongoing troubles is that its cars are all first class examples of what Honda does best – thorough engineering and absolute reliability. The pity is that every one of its models is under attack by the savvy marketing, lower prices and longer warranties offered by Hyundai and Kia.

The Korean twosome continue to muscle their way up the sales charts. As at the end of April, Daimler’s three brands (215,878) had been pushed down into ninth place for the year to date by the combined Hyundai and Kia (224,916) for the first time. Might Europe’s seventh largest OEM by sales, BMW Group, be next? It seems safe for now, its sales totalling 263,080, plus the German market is in the midst of a steady revival.

The one player that should really be alarmed by the rise of Hyundai and Kia and its ever-expanding range of models is Fiat SpA. While still the European number six, it is sinking. This is due to the decision taken some time back to preserve cash and delay the launches of what are now urgently needed new cars. The Panda was the best selling car in Italy last month, followed by the Grande Punto, followed by the 500. The Lancia Ypsilon found itself in a strong seventh place with 3,992 sales in the home market, followed by the Alfa Giulietta with 3,468 registrations. That all sounds terrific but in Germany, France and the UK, Fiat Group is simply no longer a major force.

Even in Italy, the Bravo managed only 1,609 sales in April and has failed to break the 10,000 mark for the year to date. How can this car be expected to struggle on for another two years? Saving money in the short term by having slashed R&D spending seems a strange strategy indeed.

Adding insult to injury, the Golf now leads the lower medium segment in Italy with over 20,000 sales between 1 January and 31 April. Last month it placed sixth overall. The Bravo was at least ahead of the Mégane but denying a rival Renault the 23rd slot in your home market is not exactly the definition of being covered in glory.

The last word on Fiat can be this: the best performer from the group in Europe’s largest market in April was, pause for effect, the Ducato van. It took 27th position in the German sales charts with 2,934 sales. Fiat’s highest placed car was the Grande Punto in 38th place. Its registrations totalled only 1,849 units, just over 200 more than the group’s number three, the 500, which ended April in 43rd place.

On a happier note, Europe-wide Alfa Romeo sales took off like a rocket last month, with sales up 62% thanks mostly to the Giulietta. The brand’s regional tally of 12,650 was only 201 cars behind the equivalent for Mini. For the year to date, the news is even better: Alfa (52,617) now not only leads Mini (51,138), but closed the gap to Mazda, a brand it once was nowhere near, to only 2,723 cars for the year to date.

The maker of the iconic RX-8 and MX-5 is in fact one of the worst performers in the European market over the course of 2011. Taking a look at those same KBA-supplied numbers of the top 200 vehicles sold in the German market last month, the Mazda3 made it into 91st place with 668 sales, the Mazda6 managed 95th with 648 cars sold and the Mazda2 finished the month in position 103 with 571 finding owners.

If ever an example was needed of how segmentation changes (over 3,000 units of the Nissan Qashqai were sold in Germany in April) and the rise of the Korean makers has radically altered the brand rankings in the EU and EFTA, then the above example of Mazda’s fortunes is it. For the record, Mazda sales were down 25% across Europe in April, which translates into only 55,340 registrations for the year to date.

Proving the fact that continuous, fresh product is what Mazda is lacking, a former deeply troubled brand, Mitsubishi Motors, is mounting a terrific comeback: 10,907 sales across Europe in April pushed it ahead of Mazda. Behind that success is the ASX crossover, the first serious Japanese rival for the Qashqai.

MMC, which builds the ASX at its Okazaki plant, stated at the car’s launch that of the 75,000 units it had intended to produce in fiscal 2010/2011, Europe would be allocated 30,000 vehicles. MMC is contracted to supply variants of the ASX to PSA for the Citroën and Peugeot brands from 2012.

Surely these small crossovers for PSA won’t be made in Japan when the Yen-Euro rate remains so volatile and the NedCar facility so desperately needs new product? Another option would be MMC and PSA’s Russian plant. Yet right now what matters more than build location is that after years of products that never quite hit the sweetspot with European buyers, Mitsubishi Motors has clearly, suddenly found the perfect recipe. Who knows, next year’s long overdue replacement for the Colt, which will be an import from Thailand, could be a winner too.

The biggest Japanese vehicle maker in the region - for now at least - Toyota Motor Europe, was at last able to report some good news for April. Lexus, long seen as a lost cause, having painted itself into a corner with its strategy of pushing hybrid vehicles that few seemed interested in, appears to have come good at long, long last. Thanks to the new CT 200h, which has both keen CO2 numbers and pricing, brand registrations shot up by 100% from an admittedly low base of 1,579 vehicles in April 2010.

Toyota itself shifted 44,159 vehicles in April, while TME’s overall sales for the four months, at 215,167, are now down only 3%. That number, incidentally, represents a comfortable premium to Nissan Europe of 48,145. But, this time last year, the difference was 82,786. While the Auris and Avensis sell nowhere near their potential and the Yaris is coming to the end of its life, the Nissan Qashqai, now into its fifth year, is if anything getting stronger and the newer Juke is enjoying the halo effect of its larger brother.

A somewhat smaller brand on ACEA’s long list of sales numbers, Jaguar, must be wishing its product planners had had the same vision as those at Nissan Europe who so brilliantly predicted the trend for compact crossovers. With nothing smaller to sell than the biggish (and large engined) XF sedan, Jaguar saw its April registrations fall by 45% year on year to only 1,189 cars. According to UK registrations data supplied by the SMMT, numbers plunged by 58% to only 516 cars last month, which reveals the shocking secret of the brand’s desultory performance in the other 29 markets which comprise the ACEA totals.

Production of the Jaguar X-TYPE ended in December 2009 so those who continue to attribute the loss of that car for the percentage falls are erroneous. The XK might be gorgeous but it’s just had its fifth birthday in a segment that demands novelty. This arrived a few months back in the form of the BMW 6 Series. A second facelift for the XK is scheduled to reach dealers from September so that should help matters a little but where is an XK6 3.0D rival for the forthcoming BMW 635d? The lack of a diesel engine since the XK was launched in March 2006 is a perplexing omission, especially in the car’s home market.

Meanwhile, the Jaguar XJ, much admired as it is, also desperately needs a fuel-sipping engine with low emissions to lift its sales, which is also what the XF lacks. Hope, in the form of a four-cylinder diesel, exists. But it’s going to be a trying few months yet for Jaguar dealers Europe-wide until the XF 2.2D reaches their showrooms from September. The petrol V6 that has just been announced for the Chinese market’s XJ might also reach continental Europe and possibly, if build volumes can be justified, the UK and other RHD European markets.

As for Land Rover, 26,720 mostly pricey SUVs sold across Europe in the year to the end of April is a good and presumably hugely profitable result. The Range Rover Evoque will no doubt greatly boost sales and profits from the second half of the year. To give Land Rover’s slowly rising registrations some context, it is now selling roughly the same number of vehicles in Europe as Daimler’s smart division.

Returning to the big boys, JLR’s former parent, Ford of Europe, is steady as she goes. A 3.0% dip in April was more or less in keeping with the general trend. Much is expected of the new Focus, especially as Volkswagen has thus far chosen not to launch a mid-life facelift for the Golf. Ford must be thrilled but also as perplexed as the rest of us. The seventh generation Golf is due in late 2012 so VW might even be intending to risk leaving the car’s styling unchanged, as it got away with doing that for the fourth generation model. It’s a big risk, mind; the Mark 3 Focus is in many ways the new class standard and pricing is especially keen.

Ford of Europe lagged the combined Opel, Vauxhall, Chevrolet and a handful of Cadillacs by over 10,000 vehicles in April. But. By year-end, what was formerly called GM Europe might well find itself falling back to fifth place at the expense of the blue oval brand: for the year to date, Ford is now not only 40,323 units clear of Fiat SpA with 386,633 vehicles sold, but just 23,675 cars behind the GM brands. Remember too that production of the Focus is yet to reach full speed.

Way ahead of GM, Ford of Europe and all other rivals, Volkswagen Group continues to show no sign whatsoever of taking its long-time leadership position for granted, notwithstanding that lack, thus far, of a mid-life update for the Golf. In April, its overall numbers rose by 3.7% (to 1,085,394) in a falling market. Even SEAT has at last stabilised, it sales falling by only 0.8% to 26,561. The three other major brands each enjoyed rises of between two and five percent – Audi even managed to outsell Mercedes-Benz and smart combined last month.

Still with Audi, it’s worth noting that just another 2,115 units would have put it ahead of the Fiat brand. If the UK market revives later in 2011 and the new Panda fails to appear as scheduled, Audi could, in the final quarter of this year, do what would once have been unthinkable. It’s worth remembering too that the best-selling A3 is now into the last 12 months of what has been a long lifecycle, making Audi’s ongoing success all the more extraordinary.

And so, on to what has for multiple years been the European number two manufacturer, PSA. April was not a good month, with the average of Peugeot and Citroën sales dropping by 18%, courtesy of a heavy exposure to the contracting Spanish, French and UK markets. The Peugeot 508, at least, is off to a decent start at home (2,567 registrations in April, some 300 ahead of the Laguna and almost 1,000 ahead of the Passat), with production still in the ramp-up phase.

PSA might not be chasing market share but still it can’t be good for the corporate ego to realise that a few weeks back, its great rival the Renault-Nissan Alliance became the new European number two. This despite the Renault brand itself suffering a sales fall almost as bad as that of Citroën and Peugeot.

There has been no announcement by the Franco-Japanese group but tot up the figures in the ACEA totals and they speak for themselves: year to date, PSA has now fallen behind the Alliance by 12,103 vehicles. There were 611,934 Citroën and Peugeot passenger cars sold between January and the end of April, while the equivalent number for Renault-Nissan-Dacia-Infiniti was 624,037. A year ago, the positions were flipped, with PSA ahead by over 28,000 vehicles. Can Dacia and Nissan continue their current strong growth? Will Citroën and Peugeot bounce back? This is a race that’s surely being closely monitored from opposing headquarters in Paris, as well as in Mioveni, Rolle and Yokohama.

*EU (without Malta or Cyprus) plus Norway, Switzerland & Iceland

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