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2007 SALES FIGURES: Ford top by a whisker as Audi beats BMW to premium prize

Date: 06 February 2008

The 2007 fleet registration figures revealed a major shift, with Audi finally passing BMW to become the big premium player, while Ford and Vauxhall enjoyed a titanic struggle to finish top of the league, writes Paul Barker

A major change and some status quo, but only just. That's the story of the 2007 fleet registration figures.

The new car sales to fleet totalled 1,194,811 last year, which meant the market was up 3.3% on 2006, and fleet took a larger share of overall registrations - 49.7% against 49.3% the previous year.

Ford again topped both manufacturer and model charts, but in both cases it was spectacularly close. The Focus was the top-selling fleet model, as it usually is, but another 39 Vauxhall Astras registered would have seen a dethroning. Bearing in mind both were almost at the 80,000 registrations mark, that difference is nothing. Similarly, both Ford and Vauxhall sailed past the 200,000 mark into fleet, with Ford taking top spot by just 381 registrations. Going into 2008, it really is neck-and-neck between the two dominant fleet players.

While the rest of the top five followed 2006's form book with VW comfortably ahead of Peugeot and Renault, the big change of the year came with Audi knocking BMW off its perch as the top premium brand in the fleet market. It's a seismic shift, with BMW having been so dominant for so long, but Audi had been closing for a while and sailed past in 2007 thanks to a 28% rise in sales, while BMW was 4% down. Whether the new leader can maintain its brand image and residuals while shifting increasing numbers of cars remains to be seen, but at the end of 2007 it sat comfortably in sixth place in the manufacturers' chart, also having passed Toyota last year.

The other change in the top 10 saw Honda leap two places into 10th spot, passing both Mercedes and Nissan, although all three brands had a great 2007, increasing sales and widening the gap back to Mazda in 13th. Honda's increase of more than a quarter on 2006 was due mainly to big increases from a couple of BusinessCar award-winners - the Civic and CR-V. Honda has achieved this while still keeping its fleet/retail ratio of either car at around 30% into corporate, significantly lower than the 40-60% norm.

Further down, Seat and Land Rover both rose three places up the chart, and Suzuki scraped into the top 30 manufacturers, though fleet registrations of 1519 represents less than 5% of the brand's total sales.

Kia slipped four places to 20th and lost 31.4% of its fleet sales as new UK boss Paul Philpott took action to step back from what he saw as low-profit fleet business. Kia parent company Hyundai also slid back in 2007, though the new i30 model, the most impressive car the Korean firm has launched over here, should address the slide in 2008.

American brands continued a slow introduction to the UK. Cadillac crept up to 39th place, behind Aston Martin, with 220 registrations, while Dodge more than doubled sales, but it was still outsold by Porsche in the fleet market.

Model performers

Among the top models, VW's Golf was the big mover, up three to fourth, and the Peugeot 207 entered the top 10, with a hefty 106% increase, thanks to it being the car's first full year on sale.

The best new arrivals in our top 100 were the Citroen C4 Picasso, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota Auris, all landing inside the top 40 despite not having been on sale for the whole year.

It's also worth flagging up the Toyota Prius' gallop up the ratings as firms continue to address the green agenda. For a model that's already been available for a number of years to record a 76.6% fleet sales increase is unusual, though the 4336 shifted still mean 18 Ford Focuses went into the fleet market for each Toyota hybrid.

Dropping out of the top 100 models list are a couple of big names. As well as the superseded Peugeot 206 and Toyota Corolla, the BMW X3, Vauxhall Signum, Hyundai Santa Fe and Saab 9-5 were all bumped out of the chart.

Interestingly, there were 322 different models with at least one recorded fleet registration, including the now defunct Nissan Almera and Primera, and the Toyota pairing of Celica and MR2. And despite the company being long gone, three apiece were registered for the Rover 25, 45 and 75 models. More eye-catching models that recorded fleet registrations included 69 Audi R8 supercars, 437 Bentleys, 12 Ferraris, six Maybachs and two Mercedes-Benz SLR McLarens.

Diesel's business car popularity continued on its course toward domination. In 2007, 47.5% of fleet registrations were diesel-powered, a growth of 8.6% on 2006 when the share was 45.2%. Maybe the predicted tightening of financial belts in 2008 will combine with ever-improving product to see diesel tip over the 50% point this year.

The former fleet heartland upper medium sector (Ford Mondeo, Vauxhall Vectra etc) continued its decline last year and it would be no surprise to see it fall behind superminis to become the third most popular segment in the next year or two. While the lower medium market of the Focus, Astra and VW Golf was up 10.8% to increase its market share to 29.8%, upper medium models were down 4.2% to take 20.0% of fleet sales. Superminis rose by 2.7% to take 18.0% of the market. The executive sector was rising fast in 2007 thanks mainly to massive increases in Audi A6 and Mercedes E-class registrations.

Mini-MPVs, on the other hand, plunged 8.9% on 2006 despite a strong entrance from Citroen's C4 Picasso. There were, though, gains for the off-road, coupe and cabrio markets, illustrating the ever-widening choice of vehicle for business drivers.

Looking ahead

All the predictions talk about a slowing market in 2008 as financial pressures begin to take hold. A figure around the 3% mark is expected in terms of a fall in fleet registrations, but a couple of interesting new models will make the chart interesting reading this time next year.

Fleet's two biggest players are both launching replacements for cars in this years' top 10, and both towards the end of the year. Ford's Fiesta, number three in the fleet sales chart, will be replaced by a new model, while on the Vauxhall side, the Vectra name will disappear from company car parks when it's replaced by the new Insignia. That's as well as new models including the Audi A4, Honda Accord, BMW X6, Citroen C5, Jaguar XF and Mazda 6. And the green agenda will also have more impact than ever on new registrations in 2008, especially given the changes to benefit-in-kind bandings due in April.

It was a dramatic year for the fleet market in 2007, but there's no reason not to think 2008 will be just as interesting.