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France April 2020: COVID-19 lockdown pulls sales down -88.8% to lowest April volume in 70 years

French new car sales fall to their lowest April tally since 1950.

8/05 update: Now with Top 220 All-models.

5/05 update: Now with Top 50 All-brands.

As we anticipated a week ago, French new car sales stall -88.8% year-on-year in April to just 20.997 registrations as the country was under a strict national COVID-19 lockdown for the entire month. This pulls the year-to-date tally down -48% to 385.676 units, the lowest at this stage of the year since 1965 (365.526). Given dealerships across the country are closed and will only be able to reopen from May 11 subject to local restrictions, the April volume was solely due to home deliveries of cars ordered before the lockdown. There are no records of weaker monthly volumes in France in the past 60 years. Based on our exclusive French Historical Data and the weight of each month within the year at the time, we estimate that April 2020 is the weakest outright monthly volume in France in 63 years since August 1957 (19.400) – at a time when the Renault Dauphine topped the charts – and the lowest April score in 70 years, since April 1950 (17.300) when the Renault 4CV and Peugeot 203 were the best-sellers. As a reminder March 2020 (62.668) was the lowest outright volume in 50 years, since August 1970 (46.791) and the lowest March score in 61 years, since March 1959 (61.000).

French daily sales March-April 2020. Source AAA Data

French daily sales April 2020. Source AAA Data

The good news is: sales appear to have bottomed out. As we noted earlier in the week, after the market oscillated between 184 and 625 daily sales between April 1 and April 19, there has been a frank uptrend since, with daily registrations varying between 1.300 and 2.600 units from April 20 onwards (see graph) according to AAA Data. It is a good sign for May volumes which at this stage we anticipate down -55% to 87.000 units. We at BSCB currently forecast a French 2020 annual market down -31% to 1.53m units, which would be the lowest annual volume since 1975 (1.482.343). In the past century, there has only been two occurrences of larger annual losses: during the Great Depression of 1931 (-35%) and in 1941 under German occupation (-98%) when private sales officially stopped, although local production did not quite (-90%).

The last time less cars were sold in April in France, the Renault 4CV was #1.

Looking at April sales by channel, company sales are down -85% and  private sales down -86% but account for a whopping 56% of the April 2020 volume vs. 44% in April 2019. Why this sudden surge? Simply because the traditional artificial sales channel couldn’t be activated this month: short-term rentals (-97%), self-registrations (-96%) and demo sales (-94%) are all almost completely stalled. Citroen (71%), Peugeot (67%), Volkswagen (63%), Ford (59%) and Tesla (53%) do particularly well with private buyers this month. As it was already the case in March, EV sales fare slightly better at -62% to 1.218 units and 5.8% share, again partly due to an extension of tax rebates on cars from end-March to end-April. Year-to-date, petrol sales drop -56.6% to 189.591 and 49.2% share vs. 59% over the same period in 2019, diesel registrations fare significantly better at -49.5% to 127.663 and 33.1% share vs. 34.1% a year ago, hybrid sales gain 11.8% to 40.626 and 10.5% share vs. 4.9% including 9.850 PHEVs (+87.8% and EVs almost double at +97% to 27.132 and 7% share vs. just 1.9% over the first 4 months of 2019.

Tesla manages the best hold in market at -29.2%.

Although brands and models rankings don’t hold much significance in such an atypical month, it’s worthwhile noting that French carmakers have fared a lot better than foreigners this month, with sales down -84.2% to reach a mammoth 82.1% share vs. 57.9% in April 2019. In contrast, foreign manufacturers implode -95.3% to just 17.9% of the market vs. 42.1% a year ago. The PSA Group is down -84.4% to 48.1% share vs. 34.3% in April 2019 while the Renault Group drops -83.9% to 34% share vs. 23.6% a year ago. Brand-wise, Renault (-81.2%) repeats at #1 with 28.2% of the market while Peugeot (-84.6%) is up to 24.9% share, a potential all-time record. As for Citroen (-83.9%), it hits 16.7% share which is double that of last month (8.6%) and compares to a past 5-year best of 12.1% in July 2015. Dacia (-90.5%) is back up to #4 even though it falls faster than the market and Opel (-86.2%) shoots up 13 spots on February to land at #5, the brand’s highest ranking in France in at least a decade. Tesla (-29.2%) manages the best hold in market, down 3 spots on February to #13 while DS (-77.7%) is up 8 to #8. This is the first time the standalone DS brands breaks into the French Top 10, its 2.1% share was also hit last February and is the highest since May 2014 (2.3%). The DS lineup (still part of Citroen) would have been in the Top 10 for the last time in October 2012 (#10). Strikingly, all remaining brands in France lose more than 90% year-on-year in April, with Mercedes (-98.2%), Lexus (-98.2%), Nissan (-97.8%), Suzuki (-96.8%), Seat (-96.7%), Toyota (-96.7%), Hyundai (-96.6%), Audi (-96.4%), Kia (-96.4%) and Volkswagen (-96%) among the hardest hit. Interesting timing for the (re)launch of the MG brand now under Chinese ownership with 8 sales of its eZS.

The Peugeot 208 hits its highest ever share at 9.1% and the Clio its 2nd highest ever at 12.5%.

Model-wise, the Renault Clio V (11.5% share) ends three consecutive months of reign by the Peugeot 208 II (8.9%) to notch its first win of 2020. The two generations both easily break their record share, but these levels are also significant nameplate milestones. When adding up its previous generation, the Clio climbs to 12.5% share which places just below its all-time record of 12.6% reached back in October 1992. As for the 208, adding the first gen leads to a 9.1% share which is simply the nameplate’s highest ever, toppling the 7.4% it hit just last January. The last Peugeot to nudge above 9% monthly share at home was the Peugeot 206 in July 2002. The Citroen C3 (5.7%) also breaks its all-time share record (previous best 4.9% in March 2011), as does the Peugeot 2008 II (5.5%), smashing the overall 2008 nameplate record of 3.9% dating back to May 2016. Finally the Citroen C3 Aircross hits new highs for share (3.4%) and ranking (#6). Strikingly, the Clio V is the only Renault in the Top 6 but the Twingo, Megane and Captur II all fit within the Top 9. At #12, the Opel Corsa (-80%) is the only foreign nameplate in the Top 22, with the Fiat 500 (#24), Opel Crossland X (#25), Ford Fiesta (#27) and Tesla Model 3 (#29) in tow. The Skoda Octavia is up 46 spots on March to #31 and the Ford Puma up 14 to #32.

Previous post: France 1-22 April 2020: Sales collapse -91.5% but frank uptrend over last 3 days

Previous month: France March 2020: COVID-19 sends market down -72.2% to lowest March volume in 60 years, Tesla in Top 10

One year ago: France April 2019: Citroen (+28.7%) lifts market up 0.4%, places 3 nameplates in Top 10 including C5 Aircross

Full April 2020 Top 50 All-brands and Top 220 All-models below.

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