Diesel sees lowest European new car market share since 2001

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The European new car market remained stable during 2018, with alternatively fuelled vehicles seeing their best-every year while diesel registrations hit a low.

EV registration volumes increased by 47% from 132,800 vehicles in 2017 to 195,300 vehicles in 2018

The figures from Jato Dynamics show 15.6 million vehicles were registered in Europe last year – just 346 more than in 2017 and marking the best result since 2007, when the market peaked with 16.02 million registrations. Strong results were seen in Q2, where the market was up by 4.8%, and Q3, where the market was up by 1.1%. These were enough to offset the large decline posted in Q4, where the market dropped by 7.5% and recorded its lowest volume since 2014 as a result of both Brexit and WLTP; by late November less than two in three versions available in Europe were homologated for the new emissions testing cycle.

Globally, Europe was the world’s third largest car market behind China and the US, as strong results in Spain, Poland and the Netherlands were offset by falls in the UK, Italy and Sweden. Poland, Slovakia, Luxembourg and Lithuania all posted record levels of volume, while it was the best year since 2007 for Spain and Estonia, and the best year since 2008 for Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Latvia. In contrast, it was the worst year for registrations in Switzerland since 2010, the UK since 2013, and Norway since 2014.

Diesel registrations fell by 18% to 5.59 million and posted their lowest market share since 2001. Demand fell by double digits in 20 of the 27 markets included in Jato’s analysis, with the biggest drops in the UK (-30%), Scandinavia (-22%) and Benelux (-22%).

Commenting on diesel’s decline, Jato global analyst Felix Munoz said: “Throughout 2018 we continued to see the effects of the diesel crisis, as announcements of policy changes by governments led to confusion and panic among consumers.”

The majority of vehicles registered in 2018 were powered by gasoline engines, with the fuel type making up 57% of all registrations. This result marks a 7-point market share increase on 2017 and a 12-point increase in 10 years, confirming that gasoline vehicles continue to benefit from the demise of diesel.

Meanwhile, 2018 marked the best ever performance for alternatively fuelled vehicles, recording 944,800 registrations and a 6.1% market share. This is a huge increase in 10 years, having counted for just 0.5% of total registrations in 2008.

Notably, most of the fuel type’s growth was driven by pure electric vehicles, which outsold plug-in hybrid vehicles, as their volume increased by 47% from 132,800 vehicles in 2017 to 195,300 vehicles in 2018. Norway was the biggest market for electric vehicles, where they held a 31% market share, while the Netherlands outsold the UK and became the fourth largest EV market, behind Germany and France.

Despite growing at a slower rate than in previous years, the shift from traditional cars to SUVs continued in 2018. In total, 5.4 million SUVs were registered in Europe throughout the year, up 19% on 2017, as their market share increased from 29.2% to 34.6%. Demand for SUVs grew by 20% between 2016 and 2017, by 21% between 2015 and 2016, and by 24% between 2014 and 2015, and has more than doubled over the last four years.

Most of the SUV growth was driven by small SUVs, where volume was up by 29% to 2 million registrations, while compact SUVs continued to be the most popular type of SUV, with 2.3 million registrations – a volume increase of 17%. MPVs once again felt the impact of the SUV boom, as registrations fell by a huge 27% to just 891,000 – a result that marks the worst performance for the segment since the car became popular in the mid ‘90s. Midsize cars were also affected by the demand for SUVs, as both premium and mainstream types recorded double-digit falls.

Within the manufacturer leader board, VW Group maintained its position at the top, recording 3.72 million registrations and a stable market share at 23.8%, while PSA and Renault-Nissan once again came in second and third, respectively. BMW Group climbed the rankings to become Europe’s fourth largest car maker, while Hyundai-Kia was the biggest market share winner, with its volume up by 5.2% to 1.03 million registrations, as it outsold other big makers like Ford (-3.3%), FCA (-2.4%) and Daimler (-2.8%).

Jeep posted the highest market share gain and – for the first time in its European history – recorded a market share above 1%. Other market share winners included Dacia, Seat, Peugeot and Volkswagen. In contrast, Audi registered the biggest market share drop, followed by Nissan, Fiat, Opel/Vauxhall and Renault.

The Volkswagen Golf was once again the best-selling car in Europe, however it did post an 8% fall in its registrations, mostly due to a big drop in its diesel sales, which were down by 30%. There was little change in the top 10 rankings, with the exception of the Toyota Yaris. Boosted by an increase in sales of its hybrid engine model, the Toyota Yaris was the 9th best-selling car in Europe in 2018, having ranked 15th in 2017. In contrast, the Opel/Vauxhall Astra left the top 10, as its registrations fell by 18% following large drops in its two main markets – the UK and Germany.

Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Polo was the only model in the top 10 to record double-digit growth, while the Nissan Qashqai kept its place as the best-selling SUV in Europe, despite the strong growth posted by the Peugeot 3008, which came fourth.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.