* See the Top 42 brands and Top 10 models by clicking on the title *
The UK market suffers a sixth consecutive month of decline in September, one of the two biggest months of the year as it coincides with new license plates, down 9.3% to 426.170 registrations. This is the first September decline since 2011, pulling the year-to-date total down 3.9% to 2.066.411 and setting the UK towards its first year in negative since 2011 also. The uncertainty surrounding Brexit and the weak pound has delayed purchase decisions and made cars dearer, all combining to affect the UK market negatively. As a result, business (-5.2%), private (-8.8%) and fleet sales (-10.1%) are all in negative this month. Once ultra-dominant Ford (-19%) and Vauxhall (-26%) register the harshest declines in the Top 10 just as Vauxhall falls to a record-low 5th place for the third time this year. Volkswagen has a very solid month, up 8% to 8.5% share vs. 9.3% for Ford, while BMW (-3%), Mercedes (-2%) and Audi (-5%) all decline slower than the market, resulting in improved shares. Aston Martin (+11%), Alfa Romeo (+12%), Seat (+14%) and Infiniti (+59%) are the only carmakers posting double-digit gains in the Top 40, whereas Mazda (-20%), DS (-29%), Smart (-29%), Subaru (-33%), Bentley (-39%), Fiat (-42%), Ssangyong (-54%), Lotus (-57%) and Jeep (-58%) all implode.
The main event for the month in the UK is the first ever pole position of the locally-produced Nissan Qashqai in the models ranking. The Qashqai had ranked #2 twice before in the UK (January 2016 and April 2017) but had never been the best-selling vehicle in the country before, making it the very first Japanese nameplate to top the charts of any of the Top 4 European markets (Germany, UK, France and Italy). Coincidentally, the Qashqai is also #1 in Spain this month, which means it should easily beat its record European ranking of #5 (hit in February/March 2013, and February/July 2017). Its UK sales are up a whopping 27% year-on-year to 13.499 which actually isn’t the nameplate’s UK volume record (13.742 last March).
So, why the Qashqai and why now? There are a few explanations to this historic #1 spot. Firstly, it wouldn’t have happened without the excruciatingly long generation transition (and more premium positioning) the traditional leader, the Ford Fiesta, is enduring: down another 45% this month to #3 overall. Secondly, a facelifted version with updated equipment and technology launched in July, renewing the interest for the nameplate. We have reached out to both SMMT and Nissan UK for more insights but they remained surprisingly tight-lipped. So we’ll propose a few additional explanations. With the Vauxhall Astra falling by the wayside recently (-48% this month), the Qashqai is one of only a handful of high volume models still produced in the UK, the other two local productions in the September Top 10 being the Mini (#7) and Nissan Juke (#8).
With the pound at record lows, these local productions give more discount leeway to dealers compared to dearer imports from the European Union – such as the Fiesta or Corsa, but then again, the Golf, also imported, is up 16% to a close #2 in September… On uk-car-discount.co.uk, rebates on the new Qashqai range from £3.425 to £6.924, or 18 to 23% of its retail price. In September 92.2% of Qashqai were purchased in England, traditionally fleet-heavy, vs. 90.4% year-to-date, and the Qashqai only appeared in one other nation’s Top 10: #7 in Wales. It did not make it to the Northern Irish nor Scottish Top 10s: logical in Scotland, but not in Northern Ireland. This seems to indicate a particularly strong fleet month for the Qashqai benefiting from heavy discounting. Nissan UK’s silence about its star nameplate’s performance even given pointed questions would make us incline towards that explanation, keeping in mind discount-boosted private sales were also strong, but in England only.
Previous month: UK August 2017: Golf #1, Mokka X and Kuga break records
Full September 2017 Top 42 brands and Top 10 models below.