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UK 2011 car sales analysis: winners and losers

Published: 08 January 2012

The UK car market fell 4.4% in 2011 to its worst year for at least a decade. Brits bought 1,941,253 vehicles last year as private motorists put off that new car purchase and stuck with their existing wheels or went secondhand.

Retail sales took the brunt of the fall, with a 14% collapse on 2010's figures. Just 823,094 private buyers signed on the dotted line.

Normally fleet-retail figures are evenly split, but 58% of sales last year were to company car buyers.

Ford at no.1 again

The Fiesta was Britain's most popular new car with 96,112 sold and was followed by the Focus, sealing Ford's dominant market position.

The Blue Oval has been Britain's biggest-selling car brand for exactly 35 consecutive years; an impressive 15% of all new cars and vans registered last year wore a Ford badge.

The top 10 selling cars of 2011 were dominated by familiar big-selling family cars from Ford, Vauxhall and VW, but the BMW 3-series, Nissan Qashqai and Mini's appearance again underlines how the marketplace is changing with a desire for innovative bodystyles and premium badges. How we all scoffed when Nissan killed the Almera and ushered in the Qashqai...

Best selling UK cars in 2011
 

1st

Ford Fiesta

96,112

2nd

Ford Focus

81,832

3rd

Vauxhall Corsa

77,751

4th

VW Golf

63,368

5th

Vauxhall Astra

62,575

6th

Vauxhall Insignia

46,324

7th

VW Polo

45,992

8th

BMW 3-series

42,471

9th

Nissan Qashqai

39,406

10th

Mini

35,845

There are underlying trends at play here. The supermini sector has become the biggest marketplace in the UK, accounting for 36% of all new cars sold. It wasn't that long ago that the Focus was the best-selling car in the UK, but the Fiesta has now trumped it for three years on the trot.

It was also the first year in Britain that diesel sales overtook petrol as the most popular fuel choice.

That reflects how Brits are buying cleaner cars. Just 4% of cars sold in 2011 couldn't better 35mpg while the biggest sector of the market - 35% - averaged between 55-70mpg. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which represents the UK industry, forecasts that 2011 was a low point in the past decade and predicts that sales should slowly increase in 2012 and beyond.

2011: car manufacturers winners and losers in the UK

It was a bloody year in the UK car market with the majority of brands suffering drops in new-car sales compared with 2010. Only Alfa Romeo, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Hyundai, Infiniti, Jeep, Land Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, MG, Mini, Nissan, Seat, Skoda and VW had anything to cheer about. Tellingly, most of those had a spurt of new or incremental product to push figures north, like Alfa Romeo with its new Giulietta.

But the brands picked out in red below suffered a torrid 2011 - and some brands have seemingly disappeared off the radar altogether: Cadillac, Corvette, Daihatsu and Dodge didn't sell a single car between them, while Ssangyong with 194 sales and Subaru at 2634 weren't far behind (even crippled Saab managed to flog 4138 vehicles).

Worryingly, Lotus only sold 329 cars in the UK last year - and it desperately needs the cashflow to pay for its ambitious relaunch plans. It's the same story across the board: the brands without an influx of new models - and especially the right sort of models - saw buyers desert in droves: Fiat, Mitsubishi and Honda suffered a sales crash of around a fifth, while Renault's woes were highlighted by a 28% fall, neatly explaining why it's cutting its current range in half in the UK as it concentrates on its bread-and-butter cars.

We've colour-coded the winners and losers in the chart below. Recession, supply constraints wrought by earthquakes in Japan, companies collapsing into bankruptcy... Makes you think that it's a bloody hard time to be selling cars right now.

  UK REGISTRATIONS FOR FULL YEAR 2011 % Change
MARQUE

2011

% share

2010

% share
Abarth 1,291 0.07 1,425 0.07 -9.40
Alfa Romeo 11,563 0.60 8,834 0.43 30.89
Aston Martin 1,024 0.05 1,080 0.05 -5.19
Audi 113,797 5.86 99,828 4.92 13.99
Bentley 1,037 0.05 993 0.05 4.43
BMW 116,642 6.01 109,418 5.39 6.60
Cadillac 0 0.00 24 0.00 -100.00
Chevrolet 12,524 0.65 13,678 0.67 -8.44
Chrysler 1,182 0.06 1,392 0.07 -15.09
Citroen 68,464 3.53 73,317 3.61 -6.62
Corvette 0 0.00 2 0.00 -100.00
Daihatsu 3 0.00 170 0.01 -98.24
Daimler 0 0.00 2 0.00 -100.00
Dodge 0 0.00 789 0.04 -100.00
Fiat 41,612 2.14 53,092 2.61 -21.62
Ford 265,894 13.70 280,364 13.81 -5.16
Honda 50,577 2.61 63,652 3.13 -20.54
Hummer 0 0.00 4 0.00 -100.00
Hyundai 62,900 3.24 61,752 3.04 1.86
Infiniti 382 0.02 232 0.01 64.66
Jaguar 13,787 0.71 16,417 0.81 -16.02
Jeep 2,146 0.11 2,078 0.10 3.27
Kia 53,615 2.76 56,114 2.76 -4.45
Land Rover 37,637 1.94 37,272 1.84 0.98
Lexus 8,269 0.43 6,202 0.31 33.33
Lotus 329 0.02 577 0.03 -42.98
Maserati 388 0.02 456 0.02 -14.91
Mazda 31,219 1.61 45,449 2.24 -31.31
Mercedes-Benz 81,873 4.22 74,977 3.69 9.20
MG 360 0.02 282 0.01 27.66
Mini 50,138 2.58 43,894 2.16 14.23
Mitsubishi 9,843 0.51 12,209 0.60 -19.38
Nissan 96,269 4.96 89,681 4.42 7.35
Perodua 543 0.03 761 0.04 -28.65
Peugeot 94,989 4.89 109,324 5.38 -13.11
Porsche 6,382 0.33 6,784 0.33 -5.93
Proton 446 0.02 767 0.04 -41.85
Renault 68,449 3.53 95,608 4.71 -28.41
Saab 4,138 0.21 5,898 0.29 -29.84
Seat 36,089 1.86 32,935 1.62 9.58
Skoda 45,061 2.32 41,240 2.03 9.27
Smart 5,044 0.26 7,651 0.38 -34.07
Ssangyong 194 0.01 242 0.01 -19.83
Subaru 2,634 0.14 3,897 0.19 -32.41
Suzuki 20,295 1.05 21,484 1.06 -5.53
Toyota 73,589 3.79 87,396 4.30 -15.80
Vauxhall 234,710 12.09 247,265 12.18 -5.08
Volkswagen 179,290 9.24 174,655 8.60 2.65
Volvo 32,657 1.68 37,435 1.84 -12.76
Other British 1,115 0.06 1,050 0.05 6.19
Other Imports 863 0.04 798 0.04 8.15
Total 1,941,253   2,030,846   -4.41

Source: Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet

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