European automobile market stabilized in 2018

Vehicles with alternative drive systems with best result ever; diesel with smallest market share since 2001

  • 15.6 million vehicles registered – highest figure since 2007
  • Customer confidence shaken by diesel crisis, WLTP and brexite
  • Electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles with 945,000 registrations – diesel share down 18% to 5.59 million new vehicles
  • Demand for SUVs up 19% – traditional segments lose 8%
  • Hyundai-Kia largest market share winner of all car manufacturers
  • VW Golf again Europe’s best-selling car – Toyota Yaris in the Top 10

The European automobile market was stable in 2018. According to international market observer JATO Dynamics in Schwalbach, Germany, 15.6 million vehicles were registered Â- 346 more than in 2017, the best result since 2007, when 16.02 million units were sold. The good sales figures in the second (up 4.8 per cent) and third quarters (up 1.1 per cent) compensated for the sharp decline in the fourth quarter (down 7.5 per cent), with the lowest sales volume since 2014.

“The impact of the WLTP rollout and the low availability of many key model releases has affected approvals in the fourth quarter,” says Felipe Munoz, Global Analyst at JATO Dynamics. “This is not surprising, as by the end of November, less than two out of three versions offered in Europe had been homologated.”

Diesel vehicles achieved lowest market share since 2001

Demand fell at double-digit rates in 20 of the 27 markets analysed by JATO. The UK (down 30 per cent), Scandinavia and the Benelux countries (down 22 per cent each) experienced the largest falls. “During 2018, we continued to see the impact of the diesel crisis as announcements of political changes led to uncertainty and panic among customers,” Munoz said.

Globally, Europe was the third largest car market in the world after China and the USA, and declines in sales in the UK, Italy and Sweden were offset by good results in Spain, Poland and the Netherlands. Poland, Slovakia, Luxembourg and Lithuania recorded record registrations, while Spain and Estonia had their most successful year since 2007 and Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Latvia since 2008. For Switzerland, however, it was the worst registration year since 2010, for the UK since 2013 and for Norway since 2014.

The majority (57 percent) of the vehicles registered in 2018 were gasoline

This meant an increase in market share by seven percentage points since 2017 and by twelve percentage points within ten years. This shows that in the German automotive market, gasoline engines continued to benefit from the decline of diesel.

Diesel vehicles only accounted for 36 percent of all registrations, as their market share fell by eight percentage points since 2017 and by 19 percentage points since 2011 – the best diesel year. Nearly one million more customers than in 2017 opted for a gasoline vehicle in 2018, and vehicles with alternative drive systems also benefited, with almost 200,000 more registrations than in 2017, recording their best result ever in 2018 with 944,800 units sold and a market share of 6.1 percent. This is an enormous increase within ten years; in 2008 they accounted for just 0.5 percent of total registrations.

Most of the growth was achieved by pure electric vehicles (EV), which thus replaced plug-in hybrid vehicles, as sales rose by 47 percent from 132,800 (2017) to 195,300 units (2018). Norway was the largest market for electric vehicles with a market share of 31 percent, while the Netherlands overtook Great Britain to become the fourth largest EV market after Germany and France.

The trend away from traditional cars towards SUVs continued in 2018

Last year, more than 5.4 million SUVs were registered in Europe. This was 19 percent more than in 2017, and the market share increased from 29.2 to 34.6 percent. The demand for SUVs rose by 20 percent between 2016 and 2017, by 21 percent between 2015 and 2016 and by 24 percent between 2014 and 2015. It has thus more than doubled in the last four years. “In contrast to other market trends, which are often short-lived, the SUV boom is stable and durable,” says Felipe Munoz. “Its success is due to the fact that manufacturers listen to their customers and offer them what they want in terms of design, segments and categories.”

Small SUVs were responsible for most of the growth in the automotive market, with sales rising by 29 percent to two million vehicles. With 2.3 million registrations, compact SUVs remained the most popular in the entire segment – a plus of 17 percent. MPVs again felt the effects of the SUV boom, with registrations falling by a whopping 27 percent to just 891,000 units sold. This was the worst result for this segment since it became popular in the mid 1990s. Mid-range models were also affected by the success of SUVs, with both premium and volume models suffering double-digit losses.

Hardly any changes in the ranking of car manufacturers

While the Volkswagen Group was able to maintain its leading position in the automotive market with 3.72 million registrations and a stable market share of 23.8 percent, PSA and Renault-Nissan again occupied second and third places. The BMW Group rose to become the fourth largest manufacturer in Europe, while Hyundai-Kia gained the largest market share with a plus of 5.2 percent to 1.03 million registrations, overtaking manufacturers such as Ford (minus 3.3 percent), Fiat-Chrysler (minus 2.4 percent) and Daimler (minus 2.8 percent).

Of all brands, Jeep recorded the highest market share gain and – for the first time in European history – achieved a result of more than one percent. Other winners were Dacia, Seat, Peugeot and Volkswagen. Audi suffered the largest loss of market share, followed by Nissan, Fiat, Opel/Vauxhall and Renault.

Although the VW Golf was again the best-selling car in Europe, it had to cope with an eight percent drop in sales, which was mainly due to the sharp drop in diesel sales (minus 30 percent). With the exception of Toyota Yaris, there was hardly any change in the top 10. Spurred on by the success of the hybrid version, the Yaris took 9th place in the European sales ranking in 2018 (2017: 15th place). In contrast, the Opel/Vauxhall Astra was kicked out of the top 10 as sales fell by 18 percent due to heavy losses in the UK and Germany.

The VW Polo was the only model among the top 10 in the automotive market to record double-digit growth. The Nissan Qashqai maintained its position as the best-selling SUV in Europe despite the increased registration figures of the Peugeot 3008, which came fourth.

The Dacia Sandero missed out on a place in the top 10 by 730 registrations, while the Dacia Duster was the second most successful SUV in the B segment, overtaking bestsellers such as Peugeot 2008 and Opel/Vauxhall Mocha. The premium segment was led by the Mercedes A-class, as the new generation was even more popular than the C-class. BMW X1 was again the most popular premium SUV.