As we await the newest iteration of VW’s bestseller, we examine what opposition it will face.
It’s no good. Despite repeated efforts, no European carmaker has successfully unseated the Volkswagen Golf from its lofty promontory; a position unique insofar that not only does it occupy a sub-segment of its own, but also in that its name can be expressed as both noun and adjective.
In fact, one senses that VW’s rivals have largely given up, corralling their efforts for a distant second or third place. Do I overstate matters? Not when the Golf’s nearest non-VW group rival cannot even muster 50% of the Wolfsburg bestseller’s market share in 2018 alone.
Europe’s C-segment was worth in the region of 2.13 million* sales last year. Of those, the combined VW group was responsible for 885,759 of them, with about half of these being Golf shaped. Further cold-comfort for Wolfsburg’s opponents is the revelation that Skoda’s Octavia ran the Golf closest in sales terms, ending the year a distant second.
The Golf shed sales last year, owing partially to its imminent (if delayed) replacement, issues surrounding VW’s non-compliance with WLTP emissions rules (an issue shared with some rivals), and also to the sector as a whole shrinking; attacked on two fronts by C-segment crossovers and so-called ‘compact premium hatchbacks’.
This latter threat is only numerically significant to Volkswagen if one pools the sales of Audi’s A3, BMW’s 1-Series, and Mercedes’ A-Class, which cumulatively amounted to 423,977 cars last year, still a way short of Wolfsburg’s mighty wind. However, this sub-segment continues to grow and it’s VW’s rivals who have most to fear from its encroach.
But if the mainstream C-sector in 2018 was characterised by a certain stasis, 2019 is shaping up to deliver changes to its composition, largely owing to several product announcements which took place last year now starting to make themselves felt.
The most significant of these is Ford’s latest generation Focus, which was introduced last Spring. Ford has made a noticeable effort to shift the aesthetics of this model away from that of its predecessors. Characterised by voluptuous surfacing, which combined with a cab-rearward bias, is intended to suggest a rear-wheel drive powertrain, this is Ford’s attempt to subtly edge the Focus upmarket, in perception terms anyway.
In run-out mode, the outgoing model held on solidly into the summer, aided no doubt by generous incentives, the Focus ending 2018 in third position overall. Given a following wind and the continued uplift of the new-generation model, second place (some considerable way) behind the Golf seems within the bounds of possibility especially given that the Octavia is now perceived as fading slightly.
Mlada Boleslav however, has not sat on its hands, Skoda’s product strategists clearly of the view that a dedicated C-sector hatchback is vital to their ambitions. The new Scala, in essence a larger, less penitential rethink of the Rapid formula, offers more of a value proposition to that of its distant Wolfsburg relative. With Skoda’s enviable reputation for build and durability, a top ten placing is entirely within the bounds of probability by year’s end, leapfroging Kia/Hyundai and Fiat in the process.
Last year, Toyota held a robust-looking eighth place with the outgoing C-segment Auris, which was superseded by a model marking the global return of the Corolla nameplate, hitherto confined to a three-volume offering. On a new platform and carrying the latest iteration of whatever stylistic hobby horse the design team at Toyota City currently bestrides, the new-generation Corolla, which is also available (uniquely?) as a hybrid, will, like its C-HR crossover sibling, undoubtedly prove to be a car customers purchase in spite of its appearance. But visuals aside, both Renault and Seat ought to keep a close eye in their rear view mirror.
While the Seat Leon has age to excuse it – somewhere in the VAG queue for renewal whenever VW gets around to debugging Golf VIII, Renault has few places to hide in accounting for the Megane’s 18% sales drop – significant for a model only three years on the market. Yes, Opel/Vauxhall’s Astra shed more market share (27%), but the reasons are known and quantifiable – its PSA parent choosing profitability over volume.
For the foreseeable future, we can probably forget about the Astra as a top three contender – its 2018 volumes now close to that of its PSA stablemate, Peugeot’s long-in-the-tooth, if still remarkably hearty 308.
The sector’s dark horse however is Mazda, who introduce their new generation 3 this year. The outgoing model, despite its broad competence and the endorsement of the media (some particularly close to home), faded badly, posting a 12% drop in 2018 over the previous year, outsold by Honda’s love it or hate it Civic.
This places Mazda at the bottom of the leading (combustion engined) C-sector contenders which gives the new generation 3 a lot of ground to make up. However, it does appear that Hiroshima have factored this into their calculations; the new 3’s proposition being (within the bounds of a segment so rigidly conformist), defiantly leftfield, with an even more extreme take on cab-rearward style, adopting an almost coupé silhouette.
One suspects that volume is not their number one priority, but given the stated excellence of the product and the promise inherent in its forthcoming powertrains, Mazda could spring something of a surprise.
Less of a surprise will be the eighth iteration of the eternal Golf, now set for an October reveal. Unsurprising firstly because thinly disguised prototypes have been doing the rounds of the tabloids for months, so it’s apparent that the four-decade old formula hasn’t been interfered with – although Golf 8 appears to have escaped the worst of the Heidedesign v2.0 tropes which currently blight most of the VW range.
One area where Golf VIII will differ from its predecessor is in technology, with the VW offering levels of connectivity and driver assistance systems previously the preserve of larger, more upmarket vehicles. While these will place more clear water between Golf and its mainstream ‘rivals’, the likely intention is to elevate the model closer in desirability (and transaction price) terms to Audi, BMW and Mercedes.
But perhaps the Golf’s sternest challenge will be homebaked. At this Autumn’s Frankfurt motor show, VW is set to reveal its new range of ID-branded electric vehicles, the first of which is believed to be a Golf-sized hatchback. Clearly VW hopes this will prove to be as transformative a model introduction as the Golf proved to be forty five years ago, so what this means for the future of VW’s mainstay product is a question worth asking.
The likelihood of course will be that one will ultimately subsume the other. Given the commercial robustness of the nameplate and the fact that has become so embedded in our consciousness, chances are that Golf will in the fullness of time add to its grammatical lexicon by also becoming a verb.
*All data – Carsalesbase.com
12 thoughts on “Everything That Rises Must Converge”
The best argument for the Golf is the weakness of its opponents. No fresh competitor from Skoda, Seat or PSA. If there is a car that is able to steel customers from the Golf, it is the T-Roc. I don´t think a Corolla, a Focus and for sure not a Megane are cars to seduce someone who wants to buy a Golf.
The greatest problem for the Golf and VW is the strategy of VW and the incompetence of the company´s CEO Mister Diess.
Looking at the ‘scoop’ photos (which aren’t what they used to be), the VIII risks being a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ redesign. At present, I’d say it looks like a face-lift rather than a new model. I think it is going to lose sales to the A Class, new 1 Series and new A3 (where is that, now?) as well as the likes for the T-Roc and T-Cross from within. I have driven a new CEED (and hope to find time to write about it) and think that it’s very squarely aimed at the very narrow gap between the Golf and Focus. It’s a highly competent car, but it totally lacks character and seems to take itself way too seriously. That said, I can see it appealing and doing quite well.
The Megane looks done, the Astra even more so. I have seen quite a few of the new Corollas on the road already and think that people quite like the looks – it’s amazing how everyone likes a funky light signature these days.
I worry for the new Mazda 3. I love the boldness of the design and that surfacing. However, I think many prospects are going to walk away over the impact inside of the rear pillar and shallow DLO. Hopefully, for Mazda, they will then step into the new CX-30 and drive off in one, having paid a higher sticker price in the process.
On the ID, I am not sure I like what I see, but it’s a VW so people will come!
The Mazda 3 looks a fine car for people who only infrequently have passengers in the rear of the cabin.
For families or others who regularly use the rear seats, I’m afraid it’s a bit of a horror show.
I think the Corolla could prove a strong challenger to the Golf. Toyota’s hybrid technology is excellent and the new chassis is reportedly a huge improvement.
SV: I think it’s safe to say that the Mark VIII will not be another Mark V in design terms. Indeed, it’s looking as though the outgoing car will remain a high water mark in this area at least for some time. Mind you, if as you suggest, the Golf loses sales with the forthcoming model, it does have volume to give away, considering its utter dominance of the segment.
Mazda apart (who do appear to have made something of an effort to provide something different), I don’t really understand why the likes of Renault, Opel et al continue to dash themselves against VW’s rocky promontory. Renault in particular appear to be damned no matter what they do in this sector. Having said that however, the current Mégane achieves no visual stand out whatsoever in hatchback form, appearing for all the world like an inflated Clio which has been the beneficiary of some aftermarket tinselling around the nose and tail.
By my highly unscientific reckoning, it seems to be a product which predominantly sells in its home country – certainly I encounter few in the South East of the UK when I’m there, while in Ireland, sales are weighted overwhelmingly towards its more distinctive (and rather handsome) saloon version – (I’d say by a ratio of around 9 : 1).
I was examining a Corolla the other day and while there is a decent (if highly normative) looking car underneath all that Waku-Doki, it’s a challenging sight. But saying that, there are C-HR’s all over the place, so what do I know?
It will be interesting to see if Skoda makes much of an impact with the forthcoming Scala – it appears to be a direct challenge to the Hyundai/ Kia duo in the sensible shoes stakes.
If we want to examine sales of the Mégane, or anything else for that matter, we need to take ourselves to the excellent beepbeep.ie which tells us that Irish buyers have, in the four months to April, bought Méganes in these variations and in these percentages:
Yes, I was surprised by the estate too. This is not an estate friendly market.
They’re all down about a third on the same period last year. Interestingly petrols are claimed to be 60% compared to 4% last year, though I don’t believe that.
Good morning, DP. The most striking thing for me about the statistics you have posted is that sales of the Megane saloon (called Grand Coupé by Renault) exceed those of the hatchback model in Ireland. Renault does not even offer the saloon in the UK, so limited is the perceived demand for non-premium variants of this type. I’m fascinated by the divergence of the car markets in two countries so closely aligned in many other respects. Every time I visit Ireland, I can’t help but notice the number of unfamiliar saloon cars on the roads. Would anyone care to offer a hypothesis to explain this?
Regarding the Grand Coupé name, the car is quite rakish and handsome, so Renault can be forgiven for this affectation:
I’ve just trawled a number of other manufacturers’ Irish websites and am surprised to note that only Toyota offers a mainstream (non-premium) C-segment saloon, the Corolla (but in Hybrid form only) in competition with Renault. The Astra and Focus saloons, which used to be strong sellers, are no more. That’s probably why the Megane saloon is such a strong seller: it no longer has any competitors. I guess the Irish market is, like everywhere else, infatuated by SUVs and crossovers.
A friend of mine bought a new Golf as she said, in her own words, knows nothing about cars. Says it all about the Golf’s popularity I suppose. I’ve certainly never looked upon the Golf as a desirable car but rather as a dreary, uninteresting and slightly overrated one.
I was in France a couple of weeks ago, and never saw one Megane Grand Coupé – I’m sure I’d have noticed. Lots of Talismans and the new Kolitis, which the UK doesn’t get.
Not sure why BMW use Gran Coupé rather than Grand Coupé in the UK – their version suggests cars driven by old women, which they often are.
Agreed and, even worse, the “Gran” prefix is shared with the frumpy 2-Series MPV, which has found favour with the affluent pensioner demographic around these parts:
I’m currently back in Ireland and without a word of a lie, every Mégane I have encountered has been Grand. Yet ironically, out and about today, I spotted four recent Mégane hatchbacks within about an hour. Is someone trying to send me a message?
Robertas: Don’t you think it’s rather charming that the denizens of the Veirzylinder appear to be so indulgently fond of their aged female relatives?
The segmentation of those rare buyer specie that still buys non-SUV C-segment cars, could be broadly sketched thus:
A self-assured, serious driver, would nowadays pick an Octavia wagon, with the smallest diameter wheels available. In a funky,
individual colour that Skoda gladly offers.
He’s also aware it’s an almost A8-sized car, underneath
all the “C-segm.” family car image. And doesn’t mind this at all.
If a slightly interesting character, and/or a rather demanding
driver he/she would probably go for the Mazda 3 hatch
or 308/Leon/Golf GTI instead.
If an overboard, handful of a character, of course the
i30N Fastback is chosen. No looking back.
A person with less self-assurance as a driver/automotive knowledge, (and/or a vegan), traditionally opts for a sensible Golf,
or, nowadays also a Focus, a new 1-er or a Corolla.
If displaying worldly status is an additional personal challenge,
I’d guess an A3/Golf GTI/R, or an RS Megane (sadly).
The Astra, if it doesn’t fall into oblivion, is probably already receiving a french massage and shll gradually enter
the realm of a more artsy-premium / style-
conscious choice. The S(n)aab of the 2020’s, if you will.
Architects & Designers etc.
All the rest (especially those with no character to speak of)
will of course opt for a Scala or a Ceed.
Guess who wins at the end, all things summed up…