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France May 2020: Market drops -50.3% as lockdown is lifted, weakest May in 52 years

French new car sales are slowly recovering after the lockdown was lifted on May 11.

20/06 update: Now with Top 270 All-models and Top 30 All-EV models.

2/06 update: Now with the Top 55 All-brands.

The much anticipated May volumes in Europe are starting to trickle down, giving us a front seat view at how dynamic the recovery is looking. The French new car market is down -50.3% year-on-year in May to 96.310 units, pulling the year-to-date volume down -48.5% to 481.986. This is to be compared with 62.668 sales (-72.2%) in March and 20.997 units (-88.8%) in April. Yes it’s an improvement, but we’re definitely not out of the woods just yet. In a May 13 article I wrote for French industry publication, I predicted a French May slump between -40% and -60%, and our 2020 forecasts integrated a -50% drop to 97.000 units in May: that’s almost exactly what happened. As such our 2020 forecast remains at -30% and 1.54m sales. France ended its national lockdown on May 11 and has slowly been reopening businesses and public spaces, notably in “green” departments less affected by the virus. For perspective, the May 2020 volume is the lowest for the month since 1968 (90.352) when the Renault 4 and Peugeot 203 dominates the sales charts.

Green departments had a quicker lockdown easing than the red ones.

Make no mistake, this is still ghastly but better than April 2020 which was the lowest April score since 1950 and March 2020, weakest March since 1959. In absolute terms and when removing the last two virus-affected months, the French market is now at its lowest since August 2014 (83.340), with August 2013 (85.565) and August 2012 (96.067) also below this month’s score. These three months alongside June 1997 (93.171) and last March, April and May mark the only seven occurrences the French new car market slipped below the 100.000 monthly unit-mark since 1977. Sales perked up somewhat after the lockdown was lifted, with 3.167 registrations on May 11, 7.000 on May 19 and 12.500 on May 28, but were still down -42% from May 11 to 31 after the lockdown ended. And according to the CNPA (Comité national des professionnels de l’automobile), over the last week of May showroom traffic remained down -24% compared to the last pre-lockdown week (March 10-16). Showroom stock is now estimated at four months worth of production.

The Renault Clio V and Peugeot 208 II are now locked in a race to #1.

Looking at the market regionally, the Pays de la Loire region (Nantes) fares the best at -35% year-on-year to 4.837 units, with the next best holds by Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (Marseille) at -36%, Centre-Val de Loire (Orleans) at -39% and Bretagne (Rennes) at -41%. The most affected are Corsica (-72%), Normandy (Rouen, -69%) and Hauts-de-France (Lille, -63%). The Ile-de-France region (Paris) is roughly in line with the national drop at -47% to 16.357 registrations vs. 30.085 in May 2019, despite being a “red” region that did not ease its lockdown as dramatically during May. Distribution channels show private sales faring best at -35.4% to 51.087 unites and 53% share vs. 41% in May 2019, while company sales drop -44.3% to 21.812 but demo sales implode -56% to 12.678 and short term rental sales are still frozen at -78% to 8.517. Coinciding with the announcement by President Macron of additional government help starting June 1 for the purchase of EVs (up to 12.000€) and PHEVs (up to 7.000€), sales of EVs continue to brilliantly defy the market freefall in May at +50.3% to 4.112 units and 4.3% share vs. 2.736 and 1.4% a year ago, while hybrids gain 17.6% to 12.020 and 12.5% share vs. 10.218 and 5.3% in May 2019.

Mini is the only Top 35 manufacturer in positive this month at +9.8%.

Brand-wise, Renault (-49.9%) is #1 for the third month running but given its wins have been on particularly weak volumes, its remains #2 year-to-date below Peugeot, down -56.3% for the month. Note Peugeot has never before ended a year above Renault in France. Citroen (-54.7%) drops back below the symbolic 10% share mark at 9.9% ahead of Dacia (-51.2%) at a strong 6.6% vs. 5% so far this year. Volkswagen (-45.7%) is back up two spots on April to #5 while Toyota (-31.5%) resumes its string of outstanding performances at #6, scoring the best hold in the Top 12. Below Ford (-47.5%) resisting better than the market, Mercedes (-50.4%), Audi (-44.1%) and BMW (-51.7%) all slip back into the Top 10. Further down, Mini (+9.8%) allows itself the luxury of a year-on-year gain, the only one in market alongside Aston Martin (+66.7%) which sold 5 units, while Porsche (-18.9%), Volvo (-27.6%), Mazda (-29.6%), Hyundai (-30.4%), Kia (-34.8%), Tesla (-34.9%) and Skoda (-37.1%) resists but Smart (-88.4%), Jaguar (-76.3%), Alpine (-73.9%), Suzuki (-71.4%), Fiat (-70.5%) and Jeep (-68.6%) continue to implode.

The Toyota Yaris is inside the French Top 10 for the third time in 6 months.

The Renault Clio V (+53.5%) repeats as the best-selling vehicle in France but remains almost 5.000 units below the Peugeot 208 II year-to-date at 5% share vs. 6.1%. The Dacia Sandero (-49.5%) shoots back up 7 spots on April to score its first podium finish this year just as the Citroen C3 (-47.4%) is knocked down to #4 while the Peugeot 2008 II secures a third Top 5 finish in the past 4 months, outselling its archenemy the Renault Captur II at #6. The Toyota Yaris (-45.7%) leaps back up 30 ranks on last month to break back into the Top 10 for the third time in the past 6 months at #9. The Citroen C3 Aircross (-52%) closes the Top 10, the VW Polo (-41.2%) is up 25 to #13, the Mini Hatch (+47.6%) up 20 to #15, the VW Tiguan (-39.6%) up 17 to #17, the VW T-Roc (-30.5%) up 18 to #18 and the Renault Zoe (-12.5%) remains inside the Top 20 but drops to #9 YTD. The Hyundai Kona (+7.8%), Toyota Corolla (+64.3%), VW T-Cross (+23.3%), BMW 1 Series (+26.5%) and Nissan Juke (+35.9%) also post year-on-year gains in the remainder of the Top 50.

Previous post: France 11-15 May 2020: Lockdown ends, sales lift but showroom traffic remains low

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

One year ago: France May 2019: Citroen (+23.1%) continues recovery, Renault Clio 5 arrival reshuffles models and private sales order

Full May 2020 Top 55 All-brands, Top 270 All-models and Top 30 All EV models below.

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