German new car sales put an end to 4 consecutive years of growth in 2018, edging down a tiny 0.2% to 3.435.778 units, still the second-largest annual volume this decade below last year (3.441.262). But below this seemingly quite surface, 2018 was one of the most tumultuous years the German market has ever had to endure, with one single culprit: the WLTP transition, or rather, the unpreparedness of the Volkswagen Group. Artificial registrations of non-homologated cars before the September 1 due date pumped the market to the max with July up 12% and August up 25%, so much so that Germany was up a sturdy 6.4% at end-August, but it paid the price for it with a (logically) horrendous September (-31%), followed by depressed scores in October (-7%), November (-10%) and December (-7%) edging the market into negative during the last days of the year.
Given the Volkswagen Group was at the origin of much of the turbulence in Germany, let’s focus on its schizophrenic year first: record highs up until August followed by record lows afterwards. Over the Full Year the VW Group is eerily quiet at -0.3% to an unchanged 36.3% share, but this hides huge variations. It first monopolised the Top 8 best-selling models in Germany for the first time in history in May, placed 8 in the Top 9 in June, monopolised the Top 9 for the first time in July, placing 12 nameplates in the Top 14 that month, and finally placed 10 models in the Top 11 in August. The Group’s previous record before this year was a much less impressive 5 nameplates in the Top 5 achieved 5 times between November 2015 and July 2016. Overall the VW Group is up 35% year-on-year in July to 42.8% share and up 46% in August to 41% share. Then it’s a very painful post-WLTP hangover with registrations down 61% in September to 20.1% share and down another 28% in October to 28.4% share, then on the mend at -20% in November and -10% in December.
Looking in particular at the Volkswagen brand, it stunned with a 34% gain in July and 46% uptick in August, managing to monopolise the Top 5 for the first time in German history in both May (Golf-Tiguan-Polo-Passat-Transporter) and August (Golf-Tiguan-Passat-Polo-T-Roc). But it crumbled down 62% in September to #4 brand below BMW, Mercedes and Opel. We have no record of Volkswagen not being Germany’s #1 brand – let alone #4 – since at least 1990. The last time VW was not #1 annually in Germany was in 1972 and 1973. VW also lost 19% in October, 15% in November and 11% in December. Audi however is the hardest hit by a lack of WLTP-homologated vehicles. It leaps up 27% in July to 10.6% share, which could well be its highest ever according to BSCB records, then up 45% in August but implodes down -78% in September to #14 overall, and here too we have no record of Audi falling outside the German monthly Top 10 since the brand launched in 1972, down 64% in October and 43% in November. Skoda (+31%) outsells Opel for the first time in German history in July but falls 44% in September, Seat breaks its all-time volume and share records in both July (+73%) and August (+93%) when it outsells Skoda for the first time ever but drops 55% in September. Overall, Volkswagen (+1.5%) still manages to end 2017 in positive at 18.7% share, Audi (-9.9%) is down one spot to #4 and last of the 3 premium Germans at 7.4% share, Skoda (+1.4%) advances to 5.7% share and Seat (+12.5%) lodges the only double-digit gain in the Top 10.
The main beneficiaries of the VW Group’s blatant unreadiness to transition to WLTP are Mercedes (-2.2%) and BMW (+1.2%) holding the 2nd and 3rd spots annually and whose entire lineup was WLTP-compliant well before the September 1 due date, therefore not needing an artificial summer push and hitting the ground running post-WLTP. BMW even takes the overall brands lead in September for the first time in history, reaching a new record 12.2% share which smashes its previous best of 11.2% set in December 2012. For its part Mercedes soars 19% in October to hit 12.6% of the market then, the carmaker’s highest German share since August 1980 when it reached 14.4%, its all-time monthly record being 15% in January 1974 at a time when the Mercedes Strich 8 topped the models ranking outright. Ford (+2.3%) marginally improves its share to remain at #5 above Opel (-6.5%) who enjoyed a very satisfying post-WLTP September when it climbed to 10.2% share, its first time above 10% in over 10 years (since December 2007). Renault (-3.4%) remains #8 thanks to a huge pre-WLP boost up 102% to #5 in August. Dacia (+14.5%) posts the largest year-on-year gain in teh Top 15 and ranked at a record #11 in both July (+37%) and August (+53%). Other great performers include Lamborghini (+59.2%), Ferrari (+37%), Jeep (+27.9%), Cadillac (+19%), Mitsubishi (+17.1%) and DS (+12.8%) whereas Tesla (-42.8%), Bentley (-38.2%), Infiniti (-38%), Nissan (-26%), Ssangyong (-24.6%) and Land Rover (-23.3%) skid down.
The VW Golf (-7.3%) unsurprisingly signs a 38th consecutive annual win and a whopping 43rd win in the past 44 years (every single year since 1975 apart from one interruption in 1980 by the Mercedes W123) to be compared with “only” 29 wins for the VW Beetle (from 1946 to 1973). Even though it remains ultra-dominant, selling 2.83 times the #2, the Golf is down to its lowest share since 2011 at 6.2% and dropped to its the first four-digit monthly volume in 36 years in August and potentially its lowest share ever – yet didn’t lose the top spot. The VW Tiguan (+4.6%) benefits from the launch of the Allspace 7-seater to step up to a record 2nd place, while the VW Polo (+14.8%) is positively boosted by the new generation, gaining two spots to return on its home podium and knocking the VW Passat (-3.3%) to #4. It is the first time in German history that VW monopolises the annual Top 4. The Mini lineup (+8.1%) and Ford Focus (+8.6%) brilliantly leap into the Top 10, with the Mercedes A-Class (+20.5%), Ford Fiesta (+13.1%) and Kuga (+11.4%) also impressive in the Top 30. The VW T-Roc ends its first full year of sales at home at #26, peaking at #5 in August, with the Opel Crossland X and Seat Arona also managing a Top 50 finish. The Audi Q8 is the best-selling 2018 launch at #206.
Despite the pre-WLTP fleet boost, private sales manage to gain ground in Germany in 2018 – a sign the market is getting healthier- up 2.1% to 1.250.600 but still represent a paltry 36.4% of total volumes vs. 35.6% in 2017, one of the lowest Private Sales ratio (PS) in Europe. The VW Golf remains in the lead with stable sales and an improved 30.1% PS while the Polo (+18.6%) overtakes the Tiguan (-0.6%) and the Mini lineup (+3.2%) remains at #4. The Dacia Sandero (+3.5%) brilliantly breaks into the German Top 5 with 90.6% PS, dislodging the Mercedes C-Class (-2.6%) surprisingly almost matching the market average at 35.1% PS. The Ford Fiesta (+26.7%) slices its 2017 ranking in two to #7, with the Skoda Octavia (+13.6%) up two spots to #8 and an improved 34.5% PS and the Ford Kuga still in the private Top 10. The Dacia Duster (+43.4%) shoots up 12 spots to a stunning 12th place (the Sandero and Duster both ranked inside the Top 6 in July and August), the VW T-Roc lands at #13, the Skoda Karoq at #24, the Ford Ecosport at #25 and the Seat Arona at #29, all ranking much higher than in the overall market. There are 6 foreign nameplates in the Top 35 best-sellers with private buyers vs. just 3 in the overall market – counting Mini, Opel, Seat and Skoda as German).
Full Year 2018 Top 50 brands, Top 365 models and Top 50 private sales vs. Full Year 2017 figures below.
Full December 2018 Top 50 brands and Top 325 models below.