The top 100 business cars and top 40 car brands of 2009
09 February 2010
2009 was as tough as everyone predicted it would be for manufacturers selling into business operators. But there were still some smiles among the gritted teeth in the fleet registration figures, reports Paul Barker
Not many people operating a business will be sorry to see the back of 2009. It was always going to be a tough one in terms of registering new cars to fleet, but ending the year 20% down on 2008 was about as bad as anyone was predicting 12 months ago.
In total, 882,415 new cars were registered to the fleet sector in 2009, 227,552 or 20.5% fewer than 2008. But the fleet figures alone don't tell the story of a market spectacularly skewed last year by the Government's scrappage incentive scheme.
Launched in early summer, it bypassed the corporate sector and distorted the market in favour of retail sales of smaller models, dragging the focus of manufacturers away from the business market and firmly towards retail. That will all shift around again with the scheme's end in sight, and the leasing industry body BVRLA is already predicting that manufacturers will need to "charm" fleets in 2010 as they look to maintain or regain market share. Retail sales ended 2009 8.9% up on 2008, despite being 28.4% down at the end of April, just before scrappage was introduced.
But the signs for fleet were better towards the end of the year, with the final quarter showing year-on-year fleet registration figures of -2.0%, +9.6% and -3.6% for October, November and December respectively. That's a big improvement on earlier in the year where it was at times heading for 30% down on the same month of 2008. But fleet registrations were still only 44.2% of new cars, reversing the recent trend that saw the share go from 49.3% in 2006 up to 51.3% in 2008.
Top swap again
The top two manufacturers swapped places in the registrations chart, as they did last year. Ford benefitted from very strong Focus and new Fiesta sales to open up a 35,000-unit gap over arch-rival Vauxhall, which was still very comfortable in second place, 50,000 units ahead of VW which in turn was another 35,000 ahead of the fourth-placed brand, Audi. The German manufacturer broke into the top four fleet manufacturers for the first time in its history at the expense of Peugeot, which held off the second prestige German brand BMW for fifth.
The big movers inside the top 10 were Nissan and Mercedes, both jumping three positions to seventh and ninth respectively. Honda and Renault, meanwhile, are the two sliding significantly downwards. Renault's year was particularly disastrous. The French brand managed 73,674 fleet registrations and fifth in the manufacturer table in 2006, but has tumbled to twelfth with 22,642 registrations at the close of 2009.
Only one brand in the top 20 fleet manufacturers actually managed to increase registrations year-on-year, and that was Seat. Given the drops experienced elsewhere, a 125-unit increase and three steps up the chart was a great result. Fiat's 37.4% fall in registrations was better than only Renault, and the brand's three-rung fall sees it hovering in the lower reaches of the top 20.
Further down, Saab, which looks to have secured its future under Dutch sports car brand Spyker, fell the furthest, sliding seven positions to 28 and registering only 2487 cars to fleet, compared to 10,782 in 2008. A hope for long-term security should help in 2010, although it remains to be seen exactly how the brand will sell to business users in the UK when it separates from General Motors.
Ford's Focus is again fleet's favourite car, but its little brother, the Fiesta, jumped six spots to the silver medal slot thanks to the new model, launched at the very end of 2008. That move put the rest of the top six - Vauxhall's Corsa and Astra, the VW Golf and Ford's Mondeo respectively - down a spot each, with the highest new entry being Vauxhall's Insignia in seventh, shadowing the Mondeo.
The big jump among the major business car players was Nissan's increasingly popular Qashqai, which climbed 19 places to just miss out on the top 10 thanks to 78.2% growth during 2009. It was the only model inside the top 25, apart from the new Fiesta and Insignia, to grow registrations in 2009.
Kia's lower medium Ceed added more than 6000 fleet sales and secured a place just outside the top 30, a best result yet for a Korean brand, while the new Citroen C3 Picasso and the Fiat 500 both showed strong results to make the top 50. Audi's A5 revelled in the introduction of more fleet-friendly engines and new model variants, adding 2344 registrations last year to record a 68.0% increase.
Although the Vauxhall Astra-sized lower medium category is still the dominant sector with a steady market share of 30.3%, up 0.3% last year, the change that has long been threatened finally happened in 2009. The upper medium segment, that includes cars such as the Mondeo and Insignia and which is still seen as the traditional company car domain, was passed by the supermini segment - fleets now buy more Vauxhall Corsa-sized cars than their Insignia bigger brothers. While registrations of upper medium models dropped by more than a quarter last year, superminis were down just 6.3% and now account for 20.7% of fleet registrations compared to the upper medium figure of 18.8%. That's 182,386 units against upper medium's 165,886 and a reflection of the environmental focus in tax and social terms, as well as the increasing practicality, features, specification and big-car feel of smaller models. It's a trend that is likely to continue through 2010.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders is predicting a drop in sales in 2010, with the estimates centring on 1.82m registrations against 2009's 1.99m.
But within that, a very different dynamic is likely to emerge as the importance of the corporate market is re-established in the wake of the public-funded scrappage scheme ending. This should combine with a slowly more optimistic business market that needs to replace vehicles on leases that were extended 12 months ago. Another extension is likely to be less economical than taking a new lease, given the maintenance implications of running cars more than four years old. No-one's exactly sure how the post-recession new car environment will shake out, but it's certain to be interesting.