Reading the tea leaves from Ireland’s 2016 car sales figures.
As some of you might have gathered by now, I find motor statistics quite absorbing. Okay, it’s often a little like tea leaf prophecy, but car sales figures can be revealing. However, since full-year European data is still pending, we’ll have to contain ourselves and make do with the Society of the Irish Motor Industry who’ve released statistics for January-December 2016. The Republic of Ireland market is small, but even so, 146, 672 new car sales is not to be sneezed at, especially as it shows a rise of 17.5% over that of the previous year.
The 2016 top ten looks a little like this (note: the percentage figure represents the net gain over 2015 figures).
Toyota 15,523 +18%
Hyundai 15,442 +35%
VW 15,408 +0.3%
Ford 14,595 +21%
Nissan 11,885 +6%
Škoda 9,447 +21%
Renault 8,379 +38%
Opel 7,887 +5%
Kia 6,710 +22%
Audi 6,065 +16%
What we see here are the top three virtually neck and neck in volume terms. More interesting though are the percentage gains and the likely rationale behind them. Both Toyota and (particularly) Hyundai for instance have been offering quite aggressive sales incentives – both seemingly hell bent on breaking VW’s market dominance. It is probably this pincer movement, as much as any latter fallout from NOxgate that has seen VW’s market share fall, despite showing (very) modest gains for the year as a whole. Škoda has done significantly better with a 21% sales rise on the back of a now very complete car range. Their current advertising campaign also makes an astute connection with Irish motorists, further embedding the brand in local hearts and minds without a big name brand ambassador in sight.
Renault too appears to be on a roll, with Clios and Capturs seemingly flying off forecourts if ocular evidence is any barometer. With a sales hike of 38%, the incentives are also believed to be flying. PSA would probably kill for numbers like this, but perhaps Mr Tavares is playing a longer game.
Once one of Ireland’s favourite marques, Opel continues its struggle to make a significant dent in its Merkenich rival, falling even further behind in 2016 with sales now almost half that of Ford – (the Blue Oval up 21% on last year). It seems not even the mighty Jürgen Klopp can work the required miracles here. [I notice they quietly dumped Ms. Schiffer – it’s not you Claudia, it’s most likely us…] Also nipping at Russelsheim’s heels comes Kia with their tiger feet, but while they saw the year out with something of a roar they remain a pale shadow of their Korean stablemates in pure volume terms.
Audi is perhaps the biggest surprise of 2016. Outselling the likes of Dacia, Peugeot and Mazda, their performance really makes a mockery of any pretensions to so called ‘prestige’. Further proof is BMW, directly behind in 11th spot (up 14%) while Mercedes-Benz holds 14th spot, up a mighty 44%. Mind you, with the three pointed star offering a 10% ‘Brexit’ discount this January, questioning the machinery behind Mercedes’ rise wouldn’t be beyond reason.
Looking at the also rans, Alfa Romeo’s six (yes, six) Irish dealers registered total of 43 cars all year, exactly the same as 2015. What were the chances? Coincidentally, I saw my first Giulia yesterday. Who knows, perhaps with a following wind they’ll sell a few, but with no representation outside of the major cities, they’re really going to be up against it.
To see how tough it is to break through, look at Jaguar. Despite posting the biggest percentage sales increase, (a 107% surge on the back of XE and F-Pace), their numbers remain a tiny fraction of the German trioka, even if they’re currently causing Lexus some anxious backwards glances. Nevertheless, the news for JLR here is upbeat, with Land Rover posting a further uplift of 51%. Volvo too saw a 28% rise – they’re currently selling about twice as many cars as Lexus or Jaguar, so while Gothenburg’s new model Blitz might be a bit top-end for many Irish buyers as yet, expect them to play increasingly well to the more moderately well heeled as existing models are replaced. Any betting man would be mad to wager against the Swedes breaking the ‘big three’ chokehold by 2020.
There can’t be much in the way of festivities at Citroën however who continue their steady decline, the non-meshing Chevrons posting the only noteworthy fall in a rising market. With sales down 23% on 2015, the only craic likely to be had are the fissures opening under Ms. Jackson’s feet. Their DS offshoot is now listed separately and to add further fuel the bonfire of PSA’s vanity project, Jan-Dec sales of 13 cars were recorded. Were any sold to actual customers?
Fiat disappointed in 2015, causing their Irish representative, Gerry Clarke to issue us with a polite rebuttal and promises of a better performance come 2016. Last year the FCA volume brand did post a respectable sales rise of 13%. With the Tipo yet to find its feet here, 2017 might see a further uplift, but on balance Fiat’s car range continues to be weighted towards what Irish motorists neither want nor need.
But beyond the appearance of a return to buoyant business in a supposedly ‘post-crash’ Republic, what do the figures tell us? Buying market share is neither new, particularly clever, nor sustainable in the long-term. Despite being beaten to the top spot in 2016, collate VW’s car sales as a group and the picture looks somewhat different. Combined sales -(VW/Audi/Seat/Skoda) of 33,711 versus 22,152 for Kia/Hyundai and 16,115 for Toyota/Lexus see the embattled VW group with a 23% share of the total Irish car market, leaving its rivals in a cloud of noxious particulates.
As they’re fond of saying round these parts: ‘now you’re suckin’ diesel…’