UK-based JATO Consult has published a detailed analysis of consumer buying trends and vehicle pricing that suggests a strong shift towards smaller cars.

The report studies a number of social and economic factors and the effect these have had on the new car market, car pricing and buying behaviour in the five largest European car markets – France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The findings suggest a general shift towards smaller cars driven by consumers wishing to purchase at a lower initial price, whilst also taking advantage of lower CO2, taxation and lower overall running costs such as fuel and maintenance.

Scrappage incentive schemes introduced across Europe are also providing added momentum in the small car market, by reducing transaction prices and improving accessibility.

“Our report comes at an interesting time”, said David Di Girolamo, Head of JATO Consult. “There are so many factors influencing consumer behaviour within the new car market across Europe. Taxation, incentives and European legislation are all effecting model specifications and buying habits, while the economic crisis is putting more pressure than ever on both company and household budgets.”

However, while lower priced small cars are winning market share from the larger more expensive segments, buyers who are prepared to downsize are still looking for well specified, fashionable products. Likewise, manufacturers are seeking to maintain profitable margins by selling higher specification cars.

“The likes of MINI and Fiat are the leading examples of how manufacturers can take advantage of market trends. They have both made small, cheaper to run cars into desirable fashion accessories, and consumers are spending considerable sums of money buying high-specification versions,” Di Girolamo added.

“These cars satisfy the need for consumers to be buying smaller, more economic cars, yet still deliver the manufacturers a healthy profit, which hasn’t always been possible with small cars. Larger cars have historically delivered the greater profit.”

BMW is also highlighted as a manufacturer which has responded admirably to changing market conditions. Significant emissions saving technology introduced across its model range have made its larger premium models more acceptable to a greater number of buyers, whilst the introduction of the 1-series range has opened the brand up to a new group of consumers.

In the value sector, Dacia has won significant new market share by offering honest, no frills value for money at an affordable price.

Although official list prices have risen in ‘real terms’ since 2003, the JATO report concluded that new cars represent better overall value for money than they did in 2003, by offering more space, better quality, greater safety and higher specifications than ever before.