September car sales rise for Western Europe
September new car registrations for Western Europe rose by 4.4 per cent over last year across the main five markets (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK), which was better than many industry analysts had forecast. Over the 15 EU members, figures were broadly similar (+4.5 per cent). In unit terms, registrations totalled 1,363,206 units.
However, those who point to the figures as evidence of an upturn in a hitherto-sluggish car market are being over-optimistic, warn the pundits, as there are a number of factors to take into account. The first of these is that September this year contained an additional working day over last September, while the continued high level of incentives offered by manufacturers has artificially inflated sales. The average incentive per car is estimated at 2,000 Euro which, while around half the level in the USA, is still bringing forward sales. Looking at the performances of individual countries, there is a high degree of volatility demonstrated by the figures. All the main five markets showed gains for the month, but these varied from +14.6 per cent for Spain to a more modest +1.5 per cent for the UK. Further afield, there were double digit increases for Iceland (+61.6 per cent), Finland (+26.5) and Austria (+14.3). On the other side of the coin, there were falls in Greece (-27.3), Denmark (-7.9), Portugal (-4.0), Switzerland (-3.2) and Sweden (-1.0).
Despite the overall increase in the month, year on year sales are down 1.5 per cent for the main five markets and yet the analysts are sounding a note of optimism by raising their full-year market forecast from 13.8 million units to 14.1 million, although this latter figure still represents a two per cent YoY decline. Sales are one thing; money in the bank is another and, despite the increase in units, industry commentators expect earnings to remain unchanged due to a deterioration in pricing, plus the level of incentives.
So much for the markets, but what of the players in those markets? Again the performances were mixed, with some doing well and others having a torrid time. Renault posted the biggest gain for September, with sales up nearly 16 per cent over September last year. However, September 2002 was a particularly weak month for the French marque, so not too much should be read into this figure. Japanese manufacturers as a group performed exceptionally well, increasing sales by 10.7 per cent for their highest-ever market share of 14.2 per cent. Korean manufacturers posted an impressive gain of 17.5 per cent on sales, although this is from a much lower base as the Korean’s market share is 3.2 per cent. Mention should be made of DaimlerChrysler, whose September sales were up 9 per cent.
When it comes to market share in Western Europe, the main players are the VW Group (17.3 per cent in September), PSA Group (13.7) and Ford Group (11.5). All these figures show a fall from September 2002 figures. Where you have winners, you have losers, and chief among these was Ford, whose September sales were down 5.1 per cent. This was by far the worst performance, with Fiat the only other major marque to also show a decline; in Fiat’s case a more modest 0.7 per cent. The overall message from industry watchers seems to be that the situation could be worse, all things considered. Looking ahead, there are plusses and minuses – on the plus side, the introduction of new models, such as the latest VW Golf, while on the minus side, there is still the worry about incentives and pricing – and the consensus would appear to be that the situation for 2004 will be broadly similar, with an annual sales total of 14.2 million units, or a 0.5 per cent increase over this year’s estimate.