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The top 100 best-selling fleet cars and top 40 makers to date in 2009

Date: 29 July 2009

While retail sales are rebounding thanks to the Government's scrappage scheme, fleet registrations remain in the doldrums for the first half of 2009 as the recession continues to drag its feet, reports Paul Barker

It's really no shock to hear that it's been a fairly disastrous year for new car sales.

As we ticked over to the half-year point, the scrappage scheme had put a positive tint on proceedings from the overall market point of view, but within fleet registrations there has been little sign of an upturn.

At the end of February fleet registrations were 31.2% down on the first two months of 2008; by the half-year point that had recovered but only to 29.3% down on the first six months of 2008.

On the flip side, retail registrations bounced back exceptionally well as the Government's scrappage scheme had the desired effect of propping up an ailing industry. From 28.4% down over the first four months of 2009 compared to the first third of last year, the recovery saw May come in at 14.9% below the equivalent month in 2008 and June just 1.9% behind June '08, to leave retail sales 15.7% behind 2008 at the halfway point.

The tumultuous times have had an effect on the manufacturer and model charts, with big changes in both.

There was a switch at the top of the manufacturer's league table (right) as fleet's two biggest brands again went head-to-head. Ford takes the honours by more than 15,000 units and at 13.4% down recorded the second-best result in the top 20 brands after a fast-recovering Jaguar surfing on a wave of XF model excitement.

VW held firm in third place, more than 30,000 units behind the big two yet a comfortable 15,000 clear of Audi, which shoved Peugeot out of the top four to leave a prestige brand higher than it has ever been before in the fleet sector.

The big loser was Renault, which slid five spots and out of the top 10 to 12th thanks to a 69.8% fall in registrations compared to January-June 2008. That was worse than any other top 25 brand and only ChryslerJeep was worse in the top 40 manufacturers.

Toyota, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz were chief beneficiaries of the Renault plunge as all cemented their places inside the top 10, although it will be an interesting battle over the second half of the year with just over 2500 units between them.

Further down, it was a good half-year for Seat, dropping just 13.5% in fleet compared with the 29.3% average and jumping three places to 16th, while Jaguar broke into the top 20 at the expense of sibling Land Rover. In fact, Jaguar is heading a five-brand fight at the bottom of the top 20. Just 754 units cover those from 19-23 position and all are within striking distance of Fiat, another brand on the slide as it revamps its fleet operations. This year, fleet registrations for the Italian brand have dropped 47.2%, the second worst performance in the top 20 after Renault, and a brand that once competed around the top 10 is now ranked 18th.

Regarding the top 100 models (left), Ford's Focus again proved to be the most popular fleet vehicle, but its little brother Fiesta, launched at the turn of the year, sprung a surprise by grabbing second place ahead of Vauxhall's Corsa and Astra, the latter due for replacement itself before the year is out. The most recent new Vauxhall, the Insignia, came into the top 10 just behind Ford's Mondeo.

One big riser ended up 363 units outside the top 10: Nissan's Qashqai has been a huge hit and registrations have jumped by 75.1% and 24 places to land in 11th. Further down, many of the big upward movers benefited from new derivatives, engines or replacement models. These included the BMW 1-series, Mazda 6, Seat Ibiza and Audi A5.

Given Renault's troubles in terms of fleet volume, it was no surprise to see the Clio, Megane and Scenic drop 23, 36 and 77 places respectively, although the latter two models have been in the midst of a changeover from old model to new. Speaking of French cars, it wasn't a good year for Gallic upper medium models, with both the Renault Laguna and Peugeot 407 dropping out of the top 100 fleet models. Citroen's new C5 did hold its own, though, placing number 65.

Predictably, it was the smaller segments that enjoyed the best time in the first half of 2009, although small off-roaders also recorded growth, up 0.8% on the first half of 2008. The only other sector to improve registrations was the city car segment, up 1.9%, while superminis were 12.5% down on January-June 2008, significantly ahead of the market. The two traditionally dominant segments of lower medium and upper medium models, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Mondeo-sized vehicles respectively, were 33.1% and 29.1% down. In fact, superminis actually passed upper medium models to become fleet's second most popular segment. Lower medium is still clear at the front on 127,492 registrations over the first half of the year, 28.6% of the market, but superminis grabbed 93,914 or 21.1% market share, ahead of the upper medium 87,637, which represents 19.7% of the market.

It is difficult to judge what the second half of the year might bring, especially considering that everything from economic recovery to supply problems - brought about by private, scrappage-led demand combining with car makers running stocks down and slowing factory production - is possible. It'll be interesting to see what has changed by the time we get to the close of 2009.