* Now updated with the Top 60 All-brands and Top 430 All-models *
On paper, the French new car market displays very encouraging growth in 2015 at +7% (121.000 additional sales) to 1.917.230 registrations, the highest annual score since 2011, but still below its pre-recession average level of 2.1 million units. However the reality of the market is a lot different and France is undergoing some significant structural changes that continue to unfold in the coming years. Firstly sales to private buyers are at an all-time low: from 66.4% of the market in 2009, the private ratio has dived to 50.2% this year vs. 52.3 in 2014, due to sales up just 2.5% to 962.879 registrations. Reversely, tactical sales (short-term rentals, demo/dealer sales, manufacturer sales) are up a whopping 13% to now represent one quarter of the entire market (24.7%) at 494.035 units.
The Renault Clio resists a facelifted Peugeot 208 to finish 2015 in pole position.
“Tactical” is a politically correct labelling for what is in fact fake self-registrations by manufacturers to meet sales targets. Lastly, sales to businesses including long-term leasing are up 10% to 428.651 units and 22.3% share. However the depressed economic context in France this year is at odds with such dynamic growth, and it is estimated that it is in fact more self-registrations by manufacturers that are responsible for this gain, in other words a tacticalisation of business sales and leasing.
This evolution means the French market has been mostly lifted by the eagerness of manufacturers to meet sales targets, with particularly high volumes of tactical sales at period-end months (March, June, September and December). This is a very unhealthy way to increase volumes and creates cascading and gaping market distortions. The vehicles registered tactically to meet sales targets are then sold as used by the dealers but do not match the used cars demand which traditionally follows private sales. The most popular used nameplates by and large derive from the most popular privately bought nameplates and a very high level of tactical sales puts many “unwanted” nameplates on the used car market, impacting their pricing – and ultimately the brand image – negatively.
Renault (+8%) and Peugeot (+7%) both progress slightly faster than the market to gain minimal market share, reaching their highest score in over 5 years at 20% and 17.1% respectively. Citroen (+0.8%) drops to 10.5% but is back above 200.000 annual units, while Volkswagen is timid at +3%, handicapped by sinking sales during the last quarter in the aftermath of its emissions scandal. Low-cost manufacturer Dacia is one of only two declining brands in the Top 20 with DS (both at -5%), both being handicapped by a lack of new models in 2015, and in the case of Dacia a artificially high base in early 2014 when most new generation Duster were delivered. However Dacia remains the 4th brand in France with private buyers, frankly outselling Volkswagen at 81.987 sales vs. 78.856.
The only ranking change in the Top 15 is Fiat gaining one spot to #12 thanks to sales up 19%. Audi (+4%) remains the most popular luxury marque in France but both Mercedes (+13%) and BMW (+12%) are catching up fast and have outsold the VAG brand a handful of times this year. Mini (+23%), Lexus (+28%), Land Rover (+30%), Mazda (+39%), Hyundai (+40%), Porsche (+43%), Smart (+95%) and Jeep (+208%) deliver the largest year-on-year gains in the Top 30. Jaguar (+114%) and Tesla (+116%) also impress.
Model-wise, the Renault Clio IV (+3%) resists a facelifted Peugeot 208 (+8%) that took the lead three times this year (July-September-November) vs. just once in 2014, marking five consecutive years of Clio reign in France and 17 years in the past 25, the first one being in 1991. Much more successful in its 2nd generation robe, the Peugeot 308 (+25%) gains one spot on 2014 to rank on the podium at #3. Revelations of the past couple of years, the Renault Captur (+15%) and Peugeot 2008 (+17%) show that amazingly, their sales potential is not exhausted yet. The Captur lodges its first five-digit month in June (11.286 sales and 5%) when it outsold the 208 to rank #2. It is the first annual Top 5 ranking for the 2008 that hit #4 four times this year vs. just once in 2014.
As an aside it is interesting to note than when only taking into account private sales, the Peugeot best-sellers fare significantly better. The Clio has a 32% fleet/business share vs. 44% private sales (48.000) whereas private buyers account for 52% of its total sales at 47.000 units this year. Similarly the Peugeot 2008 actually edges past the Captur with 39.363 private sales vs. 39.355.
Further down, the Renault Twingo III finishes its first full year of sales at home at #8, the Renault Megane is dislodged from the Top 10 at #12 (-8%) while the VW Polo, Golf, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Qashqai lead in the foreign aisle. Breaking into the Top 10 in both November and December, the Renault Kadjar is by far the most popular all-new model of 2015, landing at #22 and followed by the Fiat 500X (#38), Suzuki Vitara (#107) and Hyundai Tucson (#109). The Renault Espace (#40) is up 3-fold on 2014 thanks to the new generation, the BMW 2 Series is up 4-fold to #42 thanks to its MPV variants, the Nissan X-Trail is up 146% to #57 and the Jeep Renegade lands at #62 for its first full year in market.
Previous year: France Full Year 2014: Renault Captur on podium
Full Year 2015 Top 60 All-brands and Top 430 All-models vs. Full Year 2014 figures below.