We understand why people in the motor industry want instant reports of sales results, but we have been cautioning for years about taking provisional figures too much to heart. When we first started reporting on the European market as a whole back in 1982, the industry at that time was accustomed to working with data that was nine months to a year behind the times.
The main accomplishment of AID/WAIT at that time was to bring the delay in bringing out reliable data to no more than three months. For many years, that was enough but then one or two institutions began to release sales results based on 20 days actuals and 10 days estimates. We resisted that trait for as long as we could, especially when Fiat proudly announced that they had won the European crown as the top seller, and then had to ignominiously back down when the confirmed data came in some weeks later showing that Volkswagen has beaten them by 20,000 units. But pressure from clients meant that we have to show the Acea data when it is released. We do so, but still warn about taking the figures as gospel. Austria is a good example. The ACEA figures showed that car sales in December in Austria rose by 2.1%. The official data shows that they fell by 5.0%.
We had forecast a full-year result for Austria of 312,000, and the final result was 314,182, a rise of 6.2% from the 295,865 of 1998, following a December which saw sales drop to 12,414 from 13,067. The important thing to note is not that the end result was the second best ever in Austria, behind the 320,094 of 1992, but that sales fell in two of the last three months of the year. Even ACEA figures show that they fell again in January and we stand firm in our belief that the market will dip further in 2000, finishing the year around the 300,000 mark before rising again in 2001 to 314,000.
Austria is a much more volatile market than might be expected from one where the market is quite mature and the ratio of cars per capita is the third highest in Europe.
But the chart clearly shows that the market can rise and fall like a fiddler’s elbow and on the basis of the past few years it could be argued that we are not forecasting a steep enough fall over the next twelve months. Sometimes the Austrian market can be boosted by a good Geneva Auto Show, but that isn’t likely to happen this year, but neither do we expect a major collapse.
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The VW Group is very dominant in Austria and in fact boosted market share in 1999 to 32.4% from 30.9% after increasing sales by 11.3% to 101,871 from 91,543. No group has ever sold 100,000 units in Austria in a single year before. All four units of the group reported sales gains for the year, but it was Volkswagen themselves who made up the bulk of the gain, with sales up 14.7% to 63,470 from 55,337. Volkswagen saw sales of the Polo drop sharply in 1999 as news of a facelift caused many to hold back, but the Bora more than made up for that, and with the Beetle and the Lupo scoring well, Volkswagen were able to display strength in depth. Audi‘s small gain came courtesy of the new TT, Škoda relied on the impressive Octavia, whilst SEAT enjoyed a boost from the new Toledo.
Two other biggish winners in 1999 were GM Opel and Peugeot. There is no doubting that Opel pushed the Astra with everything that it had got towards year end as they saw the possibility of dethroning the VW Golf, but although Astra did do well, it was the new Zafira that
really brought in the extra sales for Opel, selling 3,099 by year end. Peugeot is currently going backwards with the 306, but the 406 continues to win new admirers, but it was the 206 that starred with sales of 4,903 to become the top PSA product in the Austrian market.
Austria Passenger Car Registrations
Austria is quite a crowded market with probably only the UK in Europe having more marques slugging it out for a share of the pie. Yet over twenty of those marques can’t register more that 4.4% of the market between them, and that includes such players as Rover, Alfa Romeo and Saab. The top four groups control over 66% of the market, and their dominance is growing with each passing year. Small wonder that there is such a mad scramble going on to forge new liaisons and bolster the dominant groups even more by absorbing the weak.
The VW Golf was the top selling model in 1999, as it was in the previous year and several years before that, but the Passat got pushed out of the number two slot by the late surge from the Opel Astra. The Ford Focus did very well in 1999, picking up 9,863 sales and taking the number 5 slot, and other new models to arrive with some fanfare were the aforementioned Opel Zafira and the Toyota Yaris.
New models arriving in the second fifty of the top sellers chart included the Mazda Premacy and the quirky Fiat Multipla. Premacy gained 1,119 sales, thereby accounting for almost all of the Mazda gain for the year. Mazda sales rose 8.5% to 14,569 from 13,424 with a mixed bag of results. The 626 saw sales fall sharply, the 121 virtually faded away, but the Demio did very well and the 323 improved enough to balance the books, leaving Premacy to account for the major part of the overall gain. Honda had the HRV and Logo available, but not early enough to make any difference to the overall result, which was a sales loss of 14.7% to 4,913 from 5,761.