Blog: Glenn BrooksThe curious state of the UK car market

Glenn Brooks | 7 July 2011

For the year to date, the Golf (33,118 registrations) has outsold the locally-made Astra (32,883)

For the year to date, the Golf (33,118 registrations) has outsold the locally-made Astra (32,883)

We live in strange times here in Britain. Government and citizens alike continue to tighten their belts in the hope of better times a few years hence, once the national debt hole is eventually filled. People grumble, but as a nation the British feel more comfortable taking medicine than demanding to know who caused the national illness and holding them to account. Thus we muddle through, allowing the occasional luxury, and empower the government to do likewise.

In that context, seeing three BMW Group cars appear in the top ten best sellers' list for June is, on the surface, odd. But British buyers do love a premium badge on the bootlid of what's parked outside their homes. Even if those very homes are usually highly leveraged. One other not particularly cheap car, GM's Vauxhall Insignia, made it into fourth spot in June, with just under 6,000 sales.

Clearly, banks are once more dishing out unsecured debt and businesses are renewing aged fleets, which is hopefully a good sign for a long, slow but steady recovery. You can be almost certain that there are generous incentives out there too for certain mass market models.

And so to the three best selling cars in June, none of them a posh-brand model. The Fiesta, which is safely ensconced in the number one slot, has just been given a price cut to keep it there, while the Focus and Astra remain in second and third places respectively: for the majority of private and fleet buyers in the UK, the familiarity of Ford or Vauxhall and affordable pricing matter most.

A large number of UK buyers will, however, always be seduced by the manufactured allure of an upscale brand and there's little harm in that, as long as they can keep making the monthly payments. It must be galling for GM to see that the Astra, a car which is built in England, is being outsold for the year to date by the imported VW Golf. Badge snobbery pure and simple.

To prove the point that the British love premium-priced brands, the BMW 3 Series is the country's eighth best seller for the year to date, while the Mini series, with 18,619 sales, is in tenth position. And in June, BMW 1 Series registrations totaled 4,077 units, enough to place it ahead of the Nissan Qashqai in ninth position.

Let's just hope that the return of pricey models to the best sellers' list isn't a preview of a new debt bubble starting to inflate. Hopefully, it's a sign of a generally stronger economy and confidence returning to corporate and personal spending habits.


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