27 August 2021

UK Ford / VW Brand Comparison : 2009-2021

The Ford Puma crossover is selling well

Ford has always been a firm favourite in the UK and the best selling nameplate for decades. Is that about to end? it appears so as Ford registrations fall not only in the UK but across Europe. I call it a repositioning of the company, moving away from low margin cars to SUVs and light commercial vehicles. In doing so, volume has to be affected. The graph below shows that as recently as 2015, Ford was selling strongly but since then a marked slide in units sold occurred. 

So who will take over the mantle of best selling brand? It pains me to say VW, a brand that fought against any compensation for duped owners in the UK. The fact the UK government was too indifferent to act is not the point. VW paid US owners without a legal fight but must have (understandably) thought the UK legal system was a soft touch like the government. 

VW claimed after being caught they were changing the culture of the company. After its appeal in the UK against paying any compensation was rejected, the judge called VW's defence "highly flawed" and "absurd". It told me that any talk of contrition from VW was insincere. 

The business world may be infested with greed and corruption but should we become apathetic to it, accepting because at the same time it gives us a comfortable way of life? Someone has to take over the top spot but it's a shame it has to be VW. What VW did was criminal and crime shouldn't pay. There should be consequences to such behaviour. Even when they eventually pay up, VW will have got off very lightly. I'm all for forgiving genuine remorse but I'm not seeing any here. 

There are alternatives such as Nissan, a company investing
heavily in the UK. Does that matter? You would think so. 

26 August 2021

France Renault / Peugeot Comparison : 2009-2021

The Renault Captur could do with more help

Renault has been the best selling car in France for so long. It's also managed to be the top selling brand in its main market Europe at certain times too. Today is a long way from there as it slides down the rankings in Europe and facing being bumped out of its perennial leadership back home.  

In 2009, it had a sizable advantage over Peugeot but that lessened as the years have since passed. Regarding traditional cars Renault does well but as for SUVs and especially crossover vehicles, Peugeot seems to have made a better fist of that. 

By 2020, the difference in registrations had become negligible and for 2021 Peugeot has pulled clear of its rival. If the year continues as it has been, then a notable change will have occurred in the French car market. Even if Renault was in some way able to regain the lead, it would surely only be a temporary reprieve.

The question now is does it really matter which brand is the top selling one? Yes and no. If the top spot is secured through discounting then of course not. If it can be done in a profitable way, it proves the product is right. In the SUV and crossover area, I think Peugeot is doing that better and that's why it's now at the top in France. 

It's Peugeot's impressive crossover lineup

23 August 2021

USA Ford / Toyota Comparison : 2009-2021

Models like the Mach-E SUV(?) are the future for Ford. 

Ford has a policy of moving away from car sales, instead just focusing on SUVs and light trucks. Good for the bottom line but not good for retaining market share. When the process is completed and time has passed to allow an equal comparison, it will provide a basis to see how the new policy is faring. It's the way forward. 

I think for the time being it's premature as there are still many people who want to buy a traditional car. If other companies still see value in persisting with them for the time being, why can't Ford? To me, it comes across as a company with a shortcut mentality rather than one that has a strong culture of cost efficiencies. 

Now on to the graph and sales figures. Going back to 2008, Toyota had become the best selling nameplate as it was in 2009 but the lead was soon lost in 2010 when Ford made a strong comeback, led by the F-Series. The margin between them was maintained but then it started narrowing in 2017. By 2020, things had got very cosy between the two makes. Ford ending the Focus model was a major factor in that.

The main problem with any predictions for 2021 is what effect supply is having on sales. For 2021, Toyota has opened a sizable lead and extrapolating sales for a full year will see Toyota end the annum well ahead. The plug has been pulled in the Fusion model while the Camry is going well for Toyota. For that reason and others like it, I see this as a swing in fortune that won't be arrested any time soon. 

Toyota can make a business case for retaining the Camry in its range

21 August 2021

JLR Japan / Korea Comparison : 2009-2021

Trying to get the reason for what happens in a given situation is not easy. It can come down to getting the facts as best we can and then interpreting them. However, we may not have enough information for an informed opinion and the Korean car market is like that for me. The sudden shifts that occur don't give the appearance of market forces alone. Is it corporate decisions or external pressures?

A few years back, premium imports boomed in Korea and the likes of JLR were beneficiaries of that along with other marques. Then around 2018, something happened. No explanation I've read about but other import premium marques continue to grow so why is JLR falling away in such a striking manner?

Below is a comparison with Japan, a nearby nation. Its sales have climbed consistently since 2009, with 2021 looking like being a record for the period under consideration. I've added an estimate for 2021 in a slightly different colour. Sales have gone from barely over 500 in a depressed 2009 to perhaps 5,000 by the end of the year, assuming disruptions don't impact too much in that time.

Korea started out much the same but by 2018, registrations passed had 11,500. Then something happened and the number will do well to exceed 2,500 in 2021. If direct competitors were experiencing the same fall then it would be a broader issue. The reduction is too steep to be just a loss of public interest or confidence. If the reason(s) have been explained, I didn't get the memo.

Turning to Jaguar was one way I hoped to clarify things but all that did as far as I was concerned was muddy the waters. The movements are much more consistent and in harmony with the Jaguar brand repositioning itself as a boutique brand rather than chase volume. One point of note is that while Jaguar finding its level in Japan, it's still in freefall in Korea.  Some mysteries just aren't going to be solved. 

Sunny times ahead I wager for Jaguar

11 August 2021

Infiniti European Sales : 2010-2019 (Part 2)

Infiniti got a cool reception in Europe

I recall being in a shopping mall in Christchurch, NZ a few years back and within the walking precincts was an iridescent pinkish Infiniti QX30. I peered through the window and thought it had a nice interior and I was impressed. What I didn't know was that soon the marque would soon beat a hasty retreat from NZ and many other markets, Europe being part of that and will now address that aspect.

Looking at European sales by model, the 2010 range was the FX (later QX70) medium / large crossover that went until 2017 and 11,350 were sold in the period under discussion. Then the G (Q50) medium sized car which runs the full timeline below and gained 13,675 registrations in that time. The EX (QX50) compact / medium crossover didn't sell too well and was dropped around 2015 with less than 2,000 registrations. Finally the M (Q70) large car that again wasn't that popular and sales petered out from 2017 with 3,400 sold.

Added since then was the Q60 coupe which replaced part of the G range. It was not a big selling vehicle but compared to how the brand was received in Europe, it sold in reasonable numbers (1,200). Finally Nissan turned to Mercedes for its compact hatchback. Unlike other models in the range, this would have a European heritage so bound to hit the right spot, right?

That was the theory behind the Q30 but the reality was different. It did become the best selling model by some margin but not the numbers hoped for (20,375). The higher riding QX30 I would have thought would have gone well but sales never got near to 2,000 in a calendar year. I have to say that doesn't make any sense to me. 

The initial target set for the Euro assault was 100,000 units per annum including Russia and Turkey which are included in the figures below. When the Russian economy hit a wall and Turkey was a flop, the rest of Europe wasn't even going to do its bit, let alone make up the shortfall. In early 2019 the announcement came of a withdrawal from Europe. Local assembly of the Q/QX30 ended mid-year and the marque gone from the region by early 2020.

At the bottom of the chart are Q/QX30 production numbers at the Nissan plant in the UK. There would have been some made in late 2015 but I don't have that data. What it shows is that while these models were aimed mainly at Europe, two thirds of production went elsewhere. Of course, Infiniti is much larger in North America but they're not big on small cars so while what was sold there was as expected, the poor take up in Europe became the issue.

What can we learn from this? That jumping into a market with a premium product is going to take time and patience. The initial numbers expected were acceptable but too much of that relied on one country (Russia). The rest of Europe was always going to be a hard sell. Lexus has not won over Europe (especially Germany) but Toyota is taking a long term approach. Nissan needed to do the same.

The big difference is Toyota can afford to take its time but Nissan didn't have that luxury and was conscious of what the exercise was costing. The decision to depart was made. It was the right decision but the lesson is clear. European premium buyers are conservative and particularly obsessed with German marques. If you don't have the resources to be patient, then best not to try.

10 August 2021

Infiniti European Sales : 2010-2019 (Part 1)

While Nissan had been sold in some European countries prior, it decided to get serious from 2008. Depending on how one defines Europe, sales for 2008 were in the 500 unit region so somewhere below marginal. The gradual increases came until 2011 before a couple of years in decline due to the financial situation at the time. Back to steady growth before a mini explosion with the arrival of the Q30/QX30 in 2016 (Q30 above - pic: Pocket-lint). It was based on the Mercedes A-Class so the first Infiniti model with a Euro focus.

However, that spurt in sales was temporary after pent-up demand for a small Infiniti was met. The range of cars was (Q30 aside) designed for North America. Local premium buyers aren't easily swayed when it comes to brand loyalty, especially for the German varieties. The Infiniti marque has no heritage in Europe and people buy this sort of car for the prestige it brings the owner.

How did sales go in European markets? I put a selection of the main ones and the collective total sales of all the main markets. Noticeable but hardly surprising is the largest nation by some margin and buyer of premium cars in large numbers wasn't top of the list. The first problem introducing a premium brand into the region is the German car buyer will largely ignore it.

The UK, France and especially Spain were more willing but still not to a sustainable level of acceptance. Going through the list, some were better than others but nothing grabs you...until one looks below the main body of the chart and sees Russia. It's not included in the totals (yellow) but more Infiniti cars found new homes in Russia than all the nations listed above combined. Had the take-up been similar across Europe, we would still have the brand selling in the region. The problem in Russia was the economy faulted and that hurt Infiniti. 

In part two, we will look at a little more detail.

04 August 2021

Honda Europe / USA Comparison

Honda is a very popular brand in North America and Asia but could it be in Europe too? Two plants were established there, in the UK (1985) and Turkey (1996). Honda also had a successful partnership with MG Rover but Honda quickly removed itself from that arrangement when MGR owner BAe sold its majority share to BMW. 

The Honda sedan made in Turkey

Honda has decided to end European manufacturing in 2021. Sales in Europe were just not good enough to justify making cars there. The chart above shows sales and market share in the six largest markets in Europe and Turkey for the first six months of 2021. Turkey was a strong market but it has import tariffs for the protection of locally made cars. That helped push its share there to 4.6%.

As for the rest of Europe, it was market forces that dictated volume. The UK's 1.4% share looked almost respectable compared with other major markets. In Germany, Honda registered a negligible 0.2%. Clearly, the cars were not resonating with the car buying public in the region. 

In future, the focus will be on Asia and North America where the brand has strong acceptance. To show that in a dramatic way, there is a graph below that compares the USA and Europe market share percentage. It covers 2000 to 2021 (six months of 2021). The USA grew through to 10% in 2009 when it slipped back but then leveled off between 8-9%. Europe increased from about 1% to 2% by 2007, steadied and leveled off at about 1%. In the last few years it has dropped further to 0.5% in 2021.

I get the impression Honda felt car makers in Europe put too much emphasis on volume at the expense of profit. That is not a policy Honda subscribes to. Of course, closing a factory in Europe is met with howls of protest from politicians and workers alike. (The exception is the UK where it is greeted with muted disappointment). So keeping plants busy is the next best option but margins can become very thin in the process. 

Will Honda retain a minor presence in Europe or leave altogether? I have no idea but I assume it would depend if there is any fiscal benefit in remaining.

01 August 2021

Ukraine Passenger Car Sales : 2020

Poland Sales: 2020

Horst now goes for a drive in the Black Forest

Not a great year for the car industry 2020, was it. At least it's making 2021 look good. Toyota took over the top spot from ┼ákoda, a position it held way back in 2008. It's been close since then but finally got there again. There were some other notable moves in the top ten as well. Audi and Lexus both managed increases but otherwise, it was a case of licking wounds and hoping for a better year to follow.