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June 13, 2003

COMMENT: Superminis: families shrink to fit

UK sales of superminis are continuing to outperform the market. Despite a slight decline in overall UK new car sales in May, the supermini segment remains buoyant. Growth in the segment is being driven partly by a focus on low-cost motoring, but the growing size of each successive generation of superminis and changing demographic trends mean that many people simply don't need a bigger car.

By bcusack

UK sales of superminis are continuing to outperform the market. Despite a slight decline in overall UK new car sales in May, the supermini segment remains buoyant. Growth in the segment is being driven partly by a focus on low-cost motoring, but the growing size of each successive generation of superminis and changing demographic trends mean that many people simply don’t need a bigger car.

New car sales in the UK fell by 4.1% in May to 200,059 units, with both fleet and private sales falling. The figure is still strong given the record levels reached a year ago, and sales are forecast to reach 2.45 million this year, making 2003 the third highest year on record for new registrations.

“In a fiercely competitive market, sales remain stable despite a slight decline on extraordinary figures in 2002,” said Christopher Macgowan, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which released the figures. “May delivered convincing results and is the second highest on record.”

Despite the overall dip in sales, the supermini segment remains strong, with sales for the month increasing by 5.4%. So far this year more than 380,000 superminis have been sold, representing 34.4% of the total market, as consumers look to keep motoring costs down. Vehicle manufacturers continue to innovate, creating ever more cabin and boot space across their model ranges, while the developments in small diesel engines – notably from Ford’s partnership with PSA Peugeot Citroen – are making them even more frugal, and therefore more affordable.

Another likely factor in the rise of the supermini is, however, that they are simply getting bigger. This trend has been occurring for generations of vehicles, as each new model is larger than its predecessor. For example, Volkswagen’s Polo is now larger than its original Mark 1 Golf. There is just as much room in today’s Ford Focus as there was in the Ford Sierra, which would be positioned above it.

As a result, many of today’s car buyers are finding they just do not need more space than the average supermini gives them. Coupled with fewer and smaller families, the supermini now fits the bill for today’s consumer.

SOURCE: DATAMONITOR COMMENTWIRE (c) 2003 Datamonitor. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without prior written consent. Datamonitor shall not be liable for errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.

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