After France and Spain (Barcelona), we continue on our quick snapshot tour of Europe and our last stop is Cologne in Germany. I was only in town for a few days so once again this is not meant to be exact science, just a few observations on the local car landscape. And first just an impression, based on conversations I overheard and various taxi rides. One year ago I published an article entitled “Will the European new car market ever grow again?” focusing on alternate means of transportation (bicycle, tram…) encouraged by various government, the French in particular. If in Southern Europe (see my recent Photo reports for Naples Italy, Barcelona and France), the population still tends to hold onto their car for dear life, with the result sometimes being a flow of battered cars only just fit for circulation as it is the case in Naples in Italy.
None of this in Germany. A large part of the Cologne population has opted for no car and happily use public transportation, not only inside town but also for intercity trips. Germany’s rail network is tightly woven and enables travel within Germany by train very quickly and conveniently. In this context, the car is elevated to a more premium use. Remember there is almost no speed limitation across Germany, which makes it a comfortable and fast alternative to train travel.
Most taxis are Mercedes (the E and B Class are most frequent) and travel at 70 kph within town – a stark contrast with the standstill occurring in Paris and speed limitations being reduced to 40kph in some French cities. With the premium trio Mercedes/Audi/BMW holding 25% of the German market so far in 2014, Volkswagen (21%) moving up-market and Porsche at highest-ever levels thanks to the Macan, over half of new car sales in Germany now belong to the premium segment, and it shows on the streets.
Cologne is definitely a Mercedes city, with Stuttgart less than 400km away. The current generation A Class is way more frequent in the streets than the latest Opel Astra, the B-Class is also very popular as is the E-Class notably in its station wagon robe. I spotted a few new gen C Class as well as some CLA. The BMW 1 Series is not far below, as is the 3 Series, however the 5 Series is rarer.
At 7.5% market share year-to-date, the VW Golf is head and shoulders above all other models on sale in Germany this year, as it has been the case pretty much since the nameplate’s original launch 40 years ago. Even though the Cologne car landscape is definitely looking premium, the 7th generation Golf is here in droves, including in its convertible and station wagon variant. I also spotted one Golf Sportsvan.
Finally, a few other striking elements in the Cologne car landscape include the Ford Ka, Seat Leon and Ibiza in more numbers than expected, a large proportion of station wagons (I observed this in Frankfurt also last year), the Skoda Octavia now a truly integral part of the landscape with many new generations spotted, my first Rapid Spaceback and the “SUVsation” of the German market at play with the Q3 and Q5 now as common as any solid selling sedan and the Porsche Cayenne well installed in the landscape. Finally, I noticed a lot of Fiat Doblo, by far the most frequent Fiat model in town, a surprise as LCV data is almost never available for Germany.
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