New A3. Audi says complete body redesign retains recognisable A3 profile. No kidding.

New A3. Audi says 'complete body redesign retains recognisable A3 profile'. No kidding.

While the UK car market appears, at first glance, considerably healthier than many European national markets, trading conditions are especially tough for the mainstream volume brands with premium brands faring rather better, an Audi spokesman has told just-auto.

The UK car market is widely forecast to show a flat picture this year with sales of around 1.9m units. However, there have been widespread reports of heavy discounting as well as suggestions that 'pre-registrations' by vehicle manufacturers are distorting the market and helping to explain unexpectedly strong growth in private retail sales this year.

“Whilst the practice [pre-registrations] provides a short term fix for the manufacturer by moving units into the retail sector, the long term effect can only be to undermine residual values and potentially damage brands,” said David Raistrick, UK Manufacturing Leader at Deloitte.

Some further insight into the dynamics of the UK car market was offered this week by Audi. Speaking at a UK launch event for the new Audi A3, Jon Zammett, head of Public Relations at Audi UK, cited a long-term 'flight to premium' in the UK car market as a factor in squeezing mainstream volume brands.

“Market conditions in the UK are tough for everyone,” Zammett acknowledged. “It's a tightening market, but the German premium brands are best protected and mainstream volume brands are clearly having the toughest times. There has been a 'flight to premium' for some time now and that is adding to the squeeze on them. Customers have shifted to the premium brands where once they purchased a volume brand model – a long-term trend. And the premium brands are generally holding up well currently. The squeeze on the mainstream brands is also coming from the continued rise of value brands like Hyundai, Kia and Skoda.”

Zammett was upbeat on prospects for Audi sales in the UK. “The net impact of model cycles and the timing of product introductions is helping us to get some further growth,” he said.

In 2011 Audi increased its UK car market sales by 14% to 113,797. Audi's steady proliferation of new models for new market niches means that its share of the UK car market in 2011 was 5.9%, which compares with 1.9% (and 43,600 units sold) in 2000. Audi forecasts that its share of the UK car market in 2012 could reach 6.4% with sales over 120,000 units, helped by the impact of strong runout sales on the outgoing A3 model.

The new A3, the first on VW Group's new MQB modular platform, accounts for over 20% of the Audi brand's UK sales. Among the new model's claimed attributes are considerable weight reduction helped by the increased use of aluminium as well as high-strength lightweight steel and a CO2 rating of 99g/km on the 1.6TDI variant. Audi says that it has achieved that 99g/km figure 'without equipment restrictions' that it says its competitors have employed on comparable models. Weight has been reduced by 80kg compared to the outgoing A3.

UK market launch of the 3-door A3 this month is with two petrol models - the 1.4TFSI (122PS), and 1.8TFSI – as well as the diesel 2.0TDI. The 1.6TDI follows in November, with the S3 and quattro variants slated for spring 2013, when the Sportback (5-door and with a longer wheelbase than the 3-door) also arrives.