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SALES FIGURES: Prestige and budget brands buck the market slump

Date: 10 February 2009

Ford's Focus tops the list of new fleet models, but as the recession took hold it was the budget and prestige brands that had plenty to smile about, writes Paul Barker

There's no denying 2008 was an extremely difficult time for the new car market.

In the second half of the year, the number of new registrations slid away dramatically, reflecting the dire economic conditions affecting the wider world. At the halfway point, the overall market was just 1.6% down on 2007, but by the end of the year the figure had plunged to 11.3% - or more than 270,000 cars - down at a total of 2,131,795 units.

It's at times like this, with private buyers deserting the market, that fleet registrations take on greater significance to manufacturers desperate to move the reported fields full of unsold cars. That's because fleet figures are generally significantly more reliable than private, with cars on regular replacement cycles. For 2008, corporate figures were down 7.1% on the previous year, while retail volumes suffered a 15.5% plunge. In total, 1,109,963 new cars were taken by fleets last year, almost 85,000 fewer than in 2007.

Fleets accounted for more than half of all new car registrations. The figure had been creeping up in recent times, from 49.3% in 2006 to 49.7 in 2007 and 51.3% in 2008, and all the signs are that it will continue to rise in 2009, due mainly to the lack of private consumers.

Top two swap

Vauxhall and Ford were virtually neck and neck in 2007, with the Blue Oval leading the way in the manufacturer sales chart by just 381 units, but this time around Vauxhall heads the table, taking the lead by a clear 5000 units and gaining market share in the process.

VW and Peugeot stay third and fourth, although both lost a small amount of market share, while Renault slid from fifth to eighth, being passed by Audi, BMW and Toyota on the way to a year-end figure 32% down on 2007. The French firm's market share dipped from 5.6% to 4.1%, too, the largest fall of anyone in 2008.

Audi, now a top-five fleet player, was one of eight brands among the top 20 to increase registrations compared with 2007 despite the economic conditions, with those doing well tending to be at either the prestige or budget ends of the scale. Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Volvo,

Honda and Jaguar all increased sales year-on-year, as did Skoda, Kia and Chevrolet. Among the mainstream volume manufacturers, only Nissan was on the up.

Those gains for Honda and Nissan saw the two Japanese firms dump Citroen out of the top 10, even though its figures were roughly in line with the market, while the massive increases for Volvo - the brand's 31.9% rise was the biggest jump of any manufacturer - takes it above Fiat, Skoda and Seat. Further down, Volvo's fellow Swede Saab continued its decline, its aging product line-up responsible for its drop out of the top 20 fleet brands. It was replaced by the ever-growing and residual value bomb-proof Mini.