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UK March 2020: VW and Golf repeat at #1 in market down -44.4%

The VW Golf is the best-selling vehicle in the UK in March.

On March 23, the UK debuted a strict stay-at-home order scheduled to last at least 3 weeks. On March 25 both the heir to the British throne Prince Charles and the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive to the coronavirus and started self-isolation. As of March 31 there were 25.150 confirmed cases ad 2.352 coronavirus deaths in the UK, with 563 deaths reported that day putting the UK as the 4th most affected country in the world below Spain (923), the USA (858) and Italy (727). Latest figures at the time of writing show 48.451 confirmed cases and 621 new UK deaths on April 5, now the third largest in the world below the USA (1.157) and Spain (694). Why are we listing these figures? Because this information is crucial in understanding that almost two weeks after the lockdown measures were implemented (themselves two weeks after Italy and one week after France), the pandemic is still flaring up in the UK which will prevent a relatively quick return to normal activity and a prolongation of the paralysation of the economy.

For now, March new car sales drop -44.4% year-on-year to 254.684 units, the lowest March volume since 1998 (213.543) and a much steeper fall than during the financial crisis when the market sank -30.5% in March 2009. The year-to-date volume is now down -31% to 483.557. March is traditionally one of the two disproportionately large months of the year in the UK as it marks a licence plate change, and will therefore be felt particularly painfully on the annual volume. In March 2020, 203.370 less new vehicles were registered compared to March 2019, and the SMMT has accordingly adjusted its annual forecast for 2020 to 1.73 million units, which would equate to a -25% drop on the 2019 figure. No doubt this will go further down as the lockdown is extended. Alongside Germany (215.119), the UK is the only European market to still sell significant volumes in March just as France drops to 62.668 (-72.2%), Spain to 37.644 (-69.3%) and Italy to 28.597 (-85.4%).

The UK is under lockdown since March 23.

The reason behind this ok volume in context is, once again, the lateness of the lockdown measures, but also, as SMMT Chief Executive Mike Hawes noted, “the significant advanced orders placed for the new 20 plate were  delivered in the early part of the month” which prevented the situation from being much worse. While many car showrooms are likely to remain closed for the coming weeks, car manufacturers and their retail networks are providing volunteers and diverting resources and funding to help the national effort during the pandemic. Hundreds of vehicles have been deployed in local communities across the UK, helping front-line workers and volunteers in the emergency services, welfare and charity sectors to look after society’s most vulnerable.

Toyota (-26.4%) scores the best hold among the Top 10 brands.

Private sales (-40.4%) evolve better than the rest at 132.281 units and tilt back above the symbolic 50% share mark at 51.9% vs. 48.5% in March 2019, while fleet sales (-47.4%) drop to 117.557 and 46.2% share vs. 48.8% and business sales (-61.1%) are down to 4.846 and 1.9% vs. 2.7%. Year-to-date, it’s fleet sales (-30.4%) that perform best this time at 246.248 and 50.9% share vs. 50.5% over Q1 2019, private sales (-31%) total 228.034 and 47.2% share (unchanged) and business sales drop -43.5% to 9.275 and 1.9% vs. 2.3%. Petrol cars sink -49.9% to 153.025 and 60.1% share vs. 66.6% and diesel cars implode -61.9% to 44.796 and 17.6% vs. 25.7% but battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are up almost 3-fold at +197.4% to 11.694, PHEVs up 38% to 6.818 but HEVs down -7.1% to 15.265. Year-to-date, diesel is down -51.3% to 91.427 and 18.9% vs. 26.8%, petrol down -36.2% to 292.328 and 60.5% vs. 65.3%, HEV up 8.1% to 28.390 and 5.9% vs. 3.7%, BEV up 204.4% to 18.256 and 3.8% vs. 0.9% and PHEV up 59.2% to 13.662 and 2.8% vs. 1.2%.

Kia (-29.4%) is up to a record 7th place.

Brand-wise, Volkswagen (-40.1%) easily repeats at #1 and improves to 9% share, also snapping the YTD brands lead with 9.3% of the UK market. It is the 7th time in UK history that Volkswagen is the #1 brand after June 2018, July 2018August 2018November 2018August 2019 and February 2020. In fact the Top 4 brands remain unchanged on February, with Ford (-53.4%), BMW (-42.2%) and Mercedes (-49.4%) in tow. The next 4 brands all lose less ground than the market, Toyota (-26.4%) being the most impressive at #6 alongside Kia (-29.4%) up two spots on last month to #7, equalling its ranking record also hit last September. These two plus Nissan (-37.3%) and Audi (-41.6%) all leapfrog past Vauxhall (-67%) down 4 ranks to #9, the carmaker’s worst ever ranking in the UK, also hit last October. This also means Toyota, Nissan and Kia outsell Vauxhall for only the 2nd time in UK history after last October. Land Rover (-25.8%) is up 5 spots to score its 5th Top 10 finish in the past 7 months at #10. Further down, Tesla shoots up 10 spots on February to #18, its 2nd ever Top 20 finish after last August (#15). MG (+59.8%), Alpine (+18.2%) and Porsche (+12.8%) are the only additional gainers among the Top 40 brands, with Lotus (-15.4%), Lexus (-17.3%), Bentley (-32.7%), Skoda (-32.7%), Mini (-32.9%) and Seat (-38.7%) also showing some resistance.

The Range Rover Evoque scores its 2nd ever Top 10 finish at home.

Over in the models ranking, the VW Golf (-35.8%) also repeats at #1 potentially thanks to the new generation – or at least heavy discounts on the outgoing gen – and should rank #1 in Germany also, positioning itself perfectly to reclaim the European crown it lost to the Renault Clio in February. The Golf is now up to #2 year-to-date in the UK, only 1.310 units below the Ford Fiesta (-54.4%), #2 in March. The Mini (-32.3%) lurches up 5 spots on February to #3, earning a return inside the Q1 Top 10 at #7. The Ford Focus (-38.5%) is knocked down to #4 for the month and #3 YTD and its three followers all fall faster than the market: the Vauxhall Corsa (-56.1%) is hit hardest compared to the Mercedes A-Class (-50.5%) and Nissan Qashqai (-44.8%). At #9, the Tesla Model 3 manages its third ever incursion into the UK Top 10 after last August (#3) and December (#9). As for the Range Rover Evoque (#10), it scores its 2nd ever Top 10 finish after last October (#10).

Previous month: UK February 2020: VW and Golf lead, Vauxhall Grandland X up to record #6 in 11th market drop in past 13 months

One year ago: UK March 2019: Dacia (+85.5%), Mercedes A-Class (+50.4%) stun in market down -3.4%

Full March 2020 Top 40 brands and Top 10 models below.

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