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Europe’s first-half sales suffer blowback from WLTP

The European auto market fell into negative territory in the first half for the first time since 2014, with vehicle sales declining by 3.1 percent to 8.18 million according to industry association ACEA. The best-performing brands were Lancia, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Dacia and Citroen.

in Automotive News Europe, by Peter Sigal, 04-08-2019

One reason for the decline was the introduction in the European Union last year of the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Testing Procedure, or WLTP. All vehicles needed to be certified by Sept. 1, 2018, so automakers pushed sales of noncompliant vehicles ahead of that deadline. As a result of that sales surge. which started in late spring 2018, gains in the first half of this year were harder to achieve, analysts said.

“Year-over-year comparisons will remain challenging for the rest of the summer, because purchases were pulled forward ahead of the implementation of WLTP,” LMC Automotive said in July.

For perspective, June registrations in 2018 set an all-time high for the month with the market up 5.2 percent, according to ACEA. In June this year sales were down 7.8 percent.

Some volume automakers have increased their market share significantly so far this year, including Dacia, up 0.5 percentage points, and Citroen, up 0.4 percentage points.

In contrast, Volkswagen brand lost 0.4 percentage points.

A slight sales increase of 0.5 percent in Germany, Europe’s largest market, was partly able to offset declines among other major markets, including former growth drivers France (down 1.8 percent), Italy (down 3.5 percent) and Spain (down 5.7 percent). The British market, Europe’s second largest, declined by 3.4 percent, a relatively good result that was helped by a Brexit delay granted by the European Union from March 31 until Oct. 31.
“Germany has been Europe’s outstanding performer in the first half,” LMC Automotive said.

12 winners
Among the 33 brands tracked by ACEA, just 12 showed sales growth in the first half, led by Lancia/Chrysler (27 percent), Mitsubishi (14 percent) and Lexus (11 percent) but all three had comparatively low volumes. Eight other brands lost sales but still outperformed the market.

Lancia is an unusual case, analysts said. The once illustrious Fiat Chrysler Automobiles brand is now sold only in Italy, where its sole model, the Ypsilon small hatchback, is the country’s No. 2–selling vehicle behind the Fiat Panda.

According to DataForce, 20 percent of Ypsilon sales were self-registrations — twice the Italian market average. Generous incentives also helped move Ypsilons in the first half, said Felipe Munoz, global automotive analyst at JATO Dynamics.

Mitsubishi’s growth has come largely from the Outlander midsize SUV, which gained an updated plug-in hybrid powertrain last autumn with a longer range in electric-only mode. Munoz said electrified SUVs from other brands, including the Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro, also did well.

Lexus continued a five-year trend of steady gains in Europe, helped by increasing demand for hybrids, which now account for 95 percent of its European sales, and strong demand for its new UX premium compact crossover.

Among other brands, the updated Duster small SUV pushed Dacia to a 10 percent sales growth.

“They are the biggest winner in the first half,” Munoz said of Renault Group’s budget brand. “The second-generation Duster is working even better than the first one — the perceived quality is a little better, and it’s still cheaper and bigger than most of its rivals.”

Citroen sales increased by 6.5 percent, helped by demand for the C3 and C5 Aircross SUVs, while Seat grew 6 percent with the introduction of the midsize Tarraco seven-seat SUV, which is emerging as a challenger to rivals such as the Skoda Kodiaq and Peugeot 5008.

Munoz said one surprise winner in the first half was BMW, which outperformed both the market, losing just 0.3 percent in sales, and its premium rivals Mercedes-Benz (down 1.8 percent) and Audi (down 6 percent).

BMW’s revamped SUV range, including the new X2, and new versions of the X3 and X5, boosted the brand’s volume, Munoz said. The X1 also remained the best-selling premium compact SUV.

One winner not tracked by ACEA is Tesla, which started European sales of its midsized electric Model 3 this year.
Deliveries spiked in March and June, Munoz said, perhaps related to the company’s quarterly goals. “The Model 3 is taking sales away from the other premium cars in its segment,” he said, including the BMW 3 series, Mercedes C class and Audi A4.

Biggest losers
Thirteen brands trailed the market, with the biggest drops among volume brands such as Nissan (down 27 percent), Fiat (10 percent), Ford (7.8 percent) — and at Europe’s two largest brands, Volkswagen and Renault (down 6.5 percent, respectively).

Nissan’s troubles relate to an aging SUV lineup and weak demand for the Micra small hatchback, Munoz said. “What used to be their growth drivers, the X-Trail, Juke and Qashqai, are facing many new competitors,” he said.

Renault’s decline is not unexpected. The automaker finished renewing its lineup in 2017 and will begin rolling out new models this year, starting with the Clio, Munoz said.

VW brand has been hurt by falling sales for cars such as the Golf, Polo and Passat in the face of demand for SUVs and crossovers. “The weight of the Polo and Golf on VW’s lineup is huge, and when these cars are not performing, this is the result,” Munoz said.

By group, only Toyota-Lexus was in positive sales territory, up just 0.3 percent, but five other groups outperformed the market, and showed small decreases, including Jaguar Land Rover (down 0.1 percent) and Hyundai-Kia (down 0.3 percent). Trailing the market were VW Group (down 4.4 percent), Renault Nissan Mitsubishi (down 5.5 percent) and Fiat Chrysler (down 9.5 percent).

Tariff threat
A factor weighing on the market is slowing GDP growth because of trade disputes and new tariffs, especially between the U.S. and its major partners. “Trade and investment have slowed sharply, especially in Europe and Asia,” the OECD said.

Nonetheless, European unemployment continues to fall, and is now at its lowest rate since 2008, at 6.4 percent.

Consumer confidence remains above its historical average, although it has fallen markedly from a peak in early 2018.

ACEA has revised its full-year European sales forecast to minus 1 percent from plus 1 percent. The rate of growth in EU car sales has been slowing since 2015, when the market rose by 9.3 percent.

In 2016 sales rose 6.8 percent, the rise was 3.4 percent in 2017 and volume increased by 0.1 percent last year.

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