LMC Automotive European Passenger Car Sales Update (March 2019)

2019/04/09

Summary

  • West European car registrations fell 3.7% year‐on‐year (YoY) in March. The selling rate was also down, at 14.1 mn units/year in March, from 14.9 mn units/year in February.
  • In an important month for the UK car market, sales were down by 3.4% YoY, while the selling rate dropped to a lacklustre 2.3 mn units/year. German registrations were down 0.5% YoY in March, but for Q1 as a whole, sales were marginally higher YoY (+0.2%).
  • In France, registrations fell by 2.3% YoY in March, pushing the market into negative territory for the first quarter of 2019 (‐0.6%, YoY). However, the selling rate remained at a respectable 2.2 mn units/year. The Italian market contracted by 9.6% YoY in March, with the selling rate slipping to 1.8 mn units/year. For Q1 2019 as a whole, Italian registrations are down 6.5% YoY. Spain saw its seventh consecutive month of YoY decline, by 4.3% in March, while the selling rate stayed disappointingly below 1.2 mn units/year.
  • For the first quarter of 2019, registrations in Western Europe as a whole are down by 3.5% YoY. The fact that the recent selling rate growth has gone into reverse is certainly a setback, leading us to forecast a virtually flat West European car market for the full‐year, with growth of just 0.3% seen. This forecast assumes that an orderly Brexit and an easing of trade tensions help to boost confidence in the coming months. Any significant YoY growth is likely to come in the final four months of 2019, when sales were weak in 2018 due to WLTP‐related disruption.



Commentary

 West European car registrations fell 3.7% YoY in March, while the selling rate dropped to 14.1 mn  units/year, from 14.9 mn units/year in February. There were fewer selling days in March in several key markets compared to the same month in the prior year, but the weaker selling rate suggests that it was still a poor month overall.

 March is a key month for the UK market, as new registration plates are released, meaning it is usually the best month of the year for car sales. The 3.4% YoY decline was therefore a disappointing – but not disastrous – result. Fleet sales grew marginally (perhaps due to fleet buyers ensuring purchases were made before Brexit, which could lead to higher prices), but private buyers appeared to take a wait‐and‐see approach amidst political uncertainty and weak economic growth. Hindered by the loss of a selling day compared to the same month in 2018, German car sales fell 0.5% YoY in March. The selling rate dropped to 3.4 mn units/year, from 3.8 mn units/year in February, but this represents a return to normality – 3.4 mn units  being in line with our full‐year German forecast – rather than a slump.

 French car sales fell by 2.3% YoY in March, but a closer look reveals that this may have been partly the result of March 2019 containing one selling day fewer than the same month in the prior year. The selling rate rose slightly above 2.2 mn units/year, for the first time since last August, which is a decent result for this market. In Italy, sales appeared to suffer from a payback effect in March, declining by 9.6% YoY, having been pulled forward to February to avoid tax increases on higher‐emitting vehicles. Meanwhile, the Italian authorities’ failure to implement a bonus scheme for electric vehicles in a timely manner also seems to be holding back sales. Although Spain’s YoY fall of 4.3% in March was less severe than February’s ‐8.8% result, it was nevertheless a weak outturn for a market which is still some way off the peaks seen in the past. Only company cars saw YoY growth in March, while the individual and hire car sectors were down. Political uncertainty and an increasing hostility to petrol and diesel fuels at both national and local policymaking levels appear to be acting as a drag on sales for the time being.

Western European Passenger Car Sales Update


Sales (Units) Selling Rate (Units/year)
Mar
2019
Mar
2018
Percent
Change
YTD
2019
YTD
2018
Percent
Change
Mar
2019
YTD
2019
Year
2018
Percent
Change
WESTERN EUROPE
1,641,252
1,704,884
-3.7%
3,783,645
3,920,043
-3.5%
14,059,824
14,464,723
14,192,210
1.9%
AUSTRIA
32,015
35,517
-9.9%
81,060
90,715
-10.6%
326,912
319,659
341,949
-6.5%
BELGIUM
54,873
58,431
-6.1%
155,866
165,557
-5.9%
555,045
623,502
549,632
13.4%
DENMARK
26,323
19,782
33.1%
66,286
56,972
16.3%
280,994
263,723
218,506
20.7%
FINLAND
9,277
11,723
-20.9%
29,100
34,417
-15.4%
95,751
102,451
120,491
-15.0%
FRANCE
225,818
231,110
-2.3%
553,340
556,858
-0.6%
2,218,383
2,185,970
2,173,523
0.6%
GERMANY
345,523
347,433
-0.5%
880,092
878,611
0.2%
3,437,498
3,677,707
3,435,832
7.0%
GREECE
9,069
11,724
-22.6%
23,704
25,096
-5.5%
105,269
110,893
104,186
6.4%
IRELAND
16,738
17,726
-5.6%
64,098
71,760
-10.7%
107,820
112,840
125,594
-10.2%
ITALY
193,662
214,270
-9.6%
537,289
574,823
-6.5%
1,821,942
1,864,888
1,909,433
-2.3%
LUXEMBOURG
5,621
5,379
4.5%
14,867
14,296
4.0%
55,843
57,989
52,807
9.8%
NETHERLANDS
39,126
41,920
-6.7%
116,124
135,679
-14.4%
497,247
427,394
443,812
-3.7%
NORWAY
18,375
14,401
27.6%
38,485
33,799
13.9%
201,770
155,422
147,929
5.1%
PORTUGAL
24,900
27,887
-10.7%
59,442
63,169
-5.9%
216,238
220,656
228,067
-3.2%
SPAIN
122,664
128,180
-4.3%
316,911
340,316
-6.9%
1,171,452
1,209,881
1,319,920
-8.3%
SWEDEN
30,256
37,206
-18.7%
73,880
87,397
-15.5%
320,798
324,094
353,666
-8.4%
SWITZERLAND
28,958
28,126
3.0%
72,065
72,089
0.0%
308,329
312,130
299,716
4.1%
UK
458,054
474,069
-3.4%
701,036
718,489
-2.4%
2,338,534
2,495,525
2,367,147
5.4%
Notes:

Greece and Luxembourg: estimates for latest month.
Greece data source has changed to Sales from Registrations.
The percent change in the final column compares the average selling rate in the year-to-date with the last full year.
The average of the seasonally adjusted selling rate for an entire year is by definition the total of sales in the year.