The Numbers Game

With a belated and probably now irrelevant report on February’s UK car sales figures (which is hardly his fault), Andrew Miles reviews the state of play before the world stopped.

Build date Some time away… (c)

Sales are king and the king is dead. With new realities affecting every facet of life, buying a new car has become as intangible as believing in Lancia’s return to UK shores or searching the heavens for flying pigs.

But car sales do continue, if only a trickle to their former flood, and practically all on-line as dealerships are firmly closed. Using the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) year to date figures (and the up to press February version) reveals this island’s uptake of shiny metal boxes before we were ordered to live life behind closed doors.

You’ve probably melted your credit card limit due to those necessary purchases weeks ago, thus anything you configure will be pure fantasy. As are some of the cars invading the top ten, which is where any good list begins.

Not in white. (c)

In tenth with 3386 sales is the white goods of the car world known as the Kia Sportage. They are fridge white because that paint is free and whilst the looks may be anodyne, the value for money price tag and that seven year warranty obviously cuts the mustard with buyers.

Ninth position is our first German representative, given over to the Bavarian 3 series. Wearing the snout of a stuffed (not flying) pig with bling earrings, it’s reasonable to believe that most are heading for the fleet world. 3648 Driers will be heading up your exhaust pipe on the motorway as soon as traffic returns to normal.

Coming to your rear view mirror, well maybe not for a while… (c) NYdailynews

Maintaining our Teutonic relations, eighth place is reserved for the car containing more folds and creases this side of an origami lesson – the Volkswagen Polo. Beloved for being perceived as a mini-Golf and therefore exemplary, 3787 were bought, by pension money probably.

Next; now, is it British? Or French? Just what is the seventh placed (with 3801 sold), Grandland X from Vauxhall, all about? In the staple white with black outlines, it resembles a Friesian cow with windows. Those buying them new; don’t they realise it’ll lose a bomb in depreciation? Or are they initially fleet bound, set to become a decent second hand purchase to shift your caravan for those autumnal holidays we’ll all be forced to have?

Sixth parking place is reserved for another of Ms. Merkel’s Machines. From Stuttgart, it’s the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. It’s a handsome enough hatchback which has the PCP deals and the cachet of being particularly popular with the yoof (that is anyone younger than 35). 4682 were shifted but I don’t want my cockpit resembling the Starship Enterprise, nor do I especially want to look like an estate agent.


Fifth and we’re (sort of) back to Blighty and Sunderland’s own Nissan Cash-Cow (as I’ve frequently heard it called without irony), the car that kick started the whole Sports Utility Vehicle craze we are presently kowtowing to. Sports and Vehicle are words easily addressed and understood. Utility means, to me, gas, electric, telephones and not these overblown devices. 5901 new Qashqai’s found a school entrance to block.

A return to Luton, now with the Corsa. These figures are for the old version as the PSA group has yet to fully inject their brand of DNA into the nation’s fourth best selling vehicle. When they do, your choices of motive power will have grown; sans plomb, the black stuff and whisper quiet electricity. A perennial favourite here in Britain, are Vauxhall still suffering with that image problem of old? 6244 new owners have obviously decided otherwise.

Podium places now and the bottom step being filled by yet another staple from Wolfsburg: Der Golf. Yes, they who have almost changed their badge recently and would have us forget all about fuel testing figures, still shift boat loads of ‘em. With sales of 7484, the Golf is as popular as buying toilet roll or anti-bacterial soap. And about as interesting.

(c) Autocar

To no-ones surprise, both silver and gold medal positions are firmly owned by the Blue Oval. In second place with 8051 crates sold is the Focus. Like a dependable son-in-law, this fellow is also rather handsome. Mostly seen in enhancing Chrome Blue yet still somehow anonymous. Of course you can have the Focus in Hatch, estate and ubiquitous slightly elevated and ruined guise. None seen so far, thankfully.

No fanfare needed for the result but the Fiesta, Ford’s dogged small-ish runabout deserves a piece of music commissioned for its attractive appearance. 9210 sold so far this year but perhaps the most unusual item in this piece was in February, the Fiesta’s monthly crown was grudgingly handed over to… the Golf… by 323 sales. The Germans feature strongly, with MINI along with the Five series hauling 1300 sales each for the shortest month.

Market leader. Image: cardissection

Of course the next batch of figures will have plummeted with no real sign of improvement. One good side being the environment, which has benefited from the significant decrease in traffic. But is the number up for new car sales? The only certainty remains the fact that numbers can reveal whatever you wish them to.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

16 thoughts on “The Numbers Game”

  1. Good morning Andrew and well done for making me laugh while reading what should have been a dull list. Isn’t it amazing that, to my eyes at least, the two best looking cars in the top ten by a wide margin are both made by Ford?

  2. I’ve only been a reader for a short time. One of the reasons why I enjoy reading every day are not just your weird views about cars that no one else is writing about, but also sentences like:

    “… Bavarian 3 series. Wearing the snout of a stuffed pig with bling earrings.”
    “…Grandland X from Vauxhall…In the staple white with black outlines, it resembles a Friesian cow with windows.”
    “5901 new Qashqai’s found a school entrance to block.”
    “..the Golf is as popular as buying toilet roll or anti-bacterial soap. And about as interesting.”
    “Of course you can have the Focus in … ubiquitous slightly elevated and ruined guise….”

    Simply brilliant. Thank you.

  3. Good morning chaps.
    Thank you for your kind words, always a welcoming fillip.

    A list like this could have been the dullest of reads. It was for me reading it thus the article required added objectivity. And a little comedy; we all need some light hearted moments, currently.

    And Fred, welcome aboard the good ship Driven to Write. The founding fathers of this establishment are most keen to avoid the mainstream and have graciously allowed me opportunities to sound off in a manner in keeping with the site. Dive into the archives but beware; whole days can be lost to reading excellent comments and articles about our favourite subject. It’s worth it, mind.

  4. I went already through the archive – if not quite complete. A gold mine – and relief for living in the current house arrest.

  5. Amongst all the recent drama, I had forgotten that, in the UK, the March ‘20’ registration plate has appeared. March is traditionally a very busy month, but looking at the latest figures, sales are down by 44% (31% YTD).

    That said, I would expect some bounce back, as many people’s leases will have ended and will need to be renewed (assuming these people can still afford to do so).

    I feel a bit sorry for manufacturers who have launched / are about to launch new models – it must be very frustrating.

    1. Good point, Charles. I haven’t seen a ’20’ plate vehicle on the road yet. (not that I’m getting out much at present, of course!)

  6. There’s still a childish part of me that eagerly anticipates the plate changeover period. Since March 1st I’ve spotted maybe three dozen 20 plates; in the main, Toyota which surprised me. A solitary Porsche Cayenne and the rest Audi’s.
    As for your woes: give them not the manufacturers but the workers.

  7. Is there something wrong with the Fiesta paragraph? 9210 sales this year and the crown handed over to the Golf?

    Also, would it be fair to say that Vauxhall sales haven’t been harmed by the transition to PSA? I haven’t been following the UK market. The Grandland at least looks like a way to get a Peugeot without their bizarre low steering wheel, high dashboard setup.

    1. I have the impression that Opel sales have even become better around here (in Switzerland) since the PSA takeover. I already see new Corsas and Grandlands, whereas the former Corsa generation is almost invisible on the streets.

  8. I´ve had a good long time to look at the new Fiesta and have concluded Ford got the design absolutely right: just enough difference to distinguish it from the old one and enough similarity not to tick off existing owners. It´s a very subtle design – the front bumper is rather smartly resolved, notice. Have Ford spent a lot on paintwork? It sure looks that way because the coating is conspicuously smooth and lustrous. I think this might be one of those cases of undrawable design, as in the final effect of the car is not showable in a sketch, it has to be communicated verbally and someone has to have a strong vision to express the idea and make sure it turns up at the end of the production line. That´s not easily done. I hope someone high up in Ford Towers recognises the achievement of the Fiesta team.

    1. I like also the current Ford Focus, nonetheless the VW Golf is still in my heart in place number one.

  9. Enjoyed this the way it was written. At least you still have monthly sales lists to contemplate. Most car makers in North America have switched to three-month reporting over the last couple of years. Tesla started it, GM followed and now they all hide their numbers. Only five of these vehicles feature in North America, and none are anywhere near the top. The smallish Qashqai isn’t worth saving $5o per month over a Rogue, the true RAV4 competitor, but even it is well behind the Honda CR-V. BMW 3 Series fell off a cliff some time ago. The A Class costs way too much for a tin box, and the Sportage does okay – there’s a new one coming anyway. No more Golfs, Foci or Fiestas for us. Mini struggles. The joke’s worn thin, and some of them look like clown cars these days.

    Here’s something to keep an eye on. Luc Donckerwolke has quit Hyundai/Kia/Genesis as head designer. Schreyer still lives upstairs as designer emeritus or something. LD, as I shall call him, abruptly left Bentley about five years ago, shortly after accusing Brit David Woodhouse at Lincoln of stealing his Bentley design and causing quite a stir. And it was rubbish anyway – Woodhouse has penned a line of very elegant SUVs, overall the nicest-looking around in my view bar none, but left for Nissan and presumably a lot of cash last summer. LD was quitting the industry he said in 2016, but turned up at Hyundai. He says he’s quitting the industry and going ‘home’ to Bavaria this time, which for a Belgian seems odd. Since nobody believes he’s quitting the industry based on his past actions, one has to wonder as one stares at the hog-snout of the new BMW 4 Series, whether someone at BMW has waved the white flag and is looking for help. Not that LD’s output at H/K has been wonderful compared to Schreyer’s touch of old at Kia. But BMW certainly seem out of ideas, and Audi isn’t far behind.

  10. John H – apologies if I’ve misaddressed the issue. The mentioned sales figures are a cumulative total for the year to date. So whilst the Fiesta has been league leader for both monthly and overall sales figures for a decade or more, the Golf snook in with those “extra” 323 sales to pinch the February prize. The fiesta however remains the runaway sales leader.

    Bill. – interesting that US have a different take on proceedings; the SMMT do seem to be very British in their reporting., thankfully.

    As for Luc Doncerwolcke leaving Korea; that might prove his most difficult angle yet just at this moment in time

  11. Great writing Andrew. I wonder what the next few months figures will look like, very poor I’m guessing.
    Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, I’d wait with baited breath for the 1st August so I could spot the latest batch of new cars, it’s not the same now it’s twice a year.
    Keep up the great work Andrew, it’s keeping us entertained in the current world crisis.

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