Volkswagen clings on to top sales spot in Europe

Published: 16 May 2016

► EU registrations grow by 8.4% to 3.85m vehicles
► 24% of sales were SUVs; segment volume up by 22%
The Renault Captur is now the best-selling SUV

Volkswagen has held on to its spot as the biggest selling carmaker in a resurgent European car market in the first third of 2016, according to industry experts JATO Dynamics, despite the emissions scandal and lack of a small SUV.

Although there was some nervousness at the start of 2016 about wider economic weakness hitting the region in the latter part of the year, Europe’s ‘Big 5’ markets – Germany, UK, France, Spain and Italy – showed increases totalling 8.5%, with 3.85 million cars sold.

However, Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics, warned the growth could not continue: ‘While Germany, France and the UK are reaching their sales peak, further growth is expected in Italy and Spain.’

Can it continue to hold that position?

Volkswagen continues to hold on to its dominant overall position mainly due to the Golf and Polo, but the dearth of any SUV smaller than the Tiguan is hitting its share, and affecting sales at other VW group brands.

Munoz continued: ‘VW Group keeps the lead but its growth was half the increase posted by total market. Therefore it was the car manufacturer to lose the biggest market share. The main reason for this is Volkswagen brand, which didn’t grow and counted for 49% of the group’s registrations.

‘However Audi, Porsche and Skoda helped to offset that result. VW Group volume is not aligned to the industry in terms of segments. SUVs counted only for 14% of its total, and their registrations grew by 6.6%, while these vehicles represented almost 25% of the five market’s registrations, and their volume increased by 24%. At the same time the compact cars registrations from the group grew by only 1.4% over Jan-Apr 2015.’

What’s enjoying success at the moment?

For firms such as Renault offering small SUVs, the picture is very healthy: the Captur become the biggest-selling SUV in April, having overtaken the Nissan Qashqai. And of the 20 cars seeing the largest leaps in market share, 11 of them were SUVs, and at brands across the price spectrum – from the Fiat 500X to the Mercedes-Benz GLC.

A company that doesn’t always get it right, but seems to have hit a sweet spot, is Fiat-Chrysler. SUVs are a big driver of growth for FCA. One year ago they counted for 14% of its registrations, while during the first four months of 2016, the Jeep range and the Fiat 500X counted for 20.5%, posting an outstanding growth of 67% in terms of volume, assodring to JATO.

For the first time European car sale history, SUVs led the way in 2015, outselling the traditional segments and posting an increase of 24% at 3.2 million units, while within that figure small SUVs hit the million mark.

And while the rate of growth will slow, it shows no sign losing its dominant position: the percentage of SUVs sold in Europe compared with total car sales has grown from 6 per cent in 2005 to 23 per cent in 2015, and is expected to increase to 27 per cent by 2020, according to industry sales analyst IHS Automotive.

What’s next?

Other brands within the Volkswagen Group are following FCA and Renault and busy unwrapping SUVs of various sizes in new sectors. This year sees the Audi Q2, Seat Ateca and Skoda Kodiaq, while a smaller SEAT SUV will debut at Martorell next year.

However, Volkswagen is still two years away from a production version of a car along the lines of the T-Cross Breeze concept shown in Geneva this year, while two further SUVs will join the Tiguan and Touareg in the stable at an as-yet unspecified later date.

Volkswagen – and its dealers who must be seeing custom head to brands offering small SUVs – will hope it can hang on until then.

Read more Volkswagen reviews here

By Steve Moody

Contributing editor, adventurer, ideas pitcher, failed grower-upper