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Overall new car registrations for 2018 were down about 7% on the previous year, and we covered the big issues affecting the overall market in a separate report yesterday. In summary: WLTP chaos, diesel unpopularity, over-reliance on car finance, buyers shunning British cars, Brexit.

Navigating these waters was a tough job for the forty-odd car companies who sell enough cars to be ranked on the SMMT charts, and some clearly did a better job than others.

We look at the ten brands who made the greatest improvements compared to their 2017 results, followed by the ten brands who suffered the biggest falls in 2018.

The ten biggest winners of 2018:

1. MG (up 104%)

2018 was a very strong year for the reborn MG, with two SUV models finally giving the British-Chinese brand some traction.

MG ZS - 2018 new car sales: winners and losers

MG was a strong performer right throughout the year, being the most-improved brand in the first half of the year and maintaining that position over the last six months, ending up with double the number of new cars on the road in 2018 compared to 2017.

2. Mitsubishi (up 31%)

Mitsubishi had a very good first half of 2018 and an even better second half. After a poor 2017, the brand needed a good result last year – and a 30% year-on-year improvement was just that.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV: 2018 new car sales - winners and losers

In absolute terms, an extra 5,000+ cars sold was the largest increase of any manufacturer in 2018.

3. Abarth (up 27%)

Fiat’s go-fast division continued its steady improvement, with a strong performance throughout 2018 to end up with a 27% increase in registrations over 2017.

Abarth 695C Rivale wallpaper | The Car Expert

The Abarth 124 Spider is a great halo model for both Abarth and Fiat, although that could be made more difficult in 2019 with the Fiat version of the 124 currently pulled from sale (allegedly because of WLTP compliance issues).

4. Subaru (up 17%)

Forging your own path can be rewarding, but it’s generally a lot harder than simply following the herd. Therefore, perennial maverick brand Subaru can be justifiably pleased with 17% growth in the last year.

Subaru Impreza wallpaper | The Car Expert

The new XV crossover certainly helped that, and hopefully the momentum will carry through into 2019.

5. SEAT (up 12%)

VW’s Spanish sub-brand has been on a path of continued growth for a few years now, with no end in sight as the range fills out with three SUVs to complement the hatchback models.

SEAT Leon wallpaper | The Car Expert

Not even a WLTP-induced stock shortage in September could stop SEAT posting yet another year of improvement, although it did take a chunk out of sales in the last three or four months.

6. McLaren (up 10%)

A good year for McLaren, although its growth was all in the first half of the year and the second half was actually slower than 2017. That’s largely to be expected, as McLaren build small-volume, high-value cars and results will fluctuate wildly.

McLaren 570S wallpaper | The Car Expert

Mind you, McLaren still managed to outsell Infiniti in the last six months, so it wasn’t too bad…

7. Volvo (up 9%)

Volvo must be quietly satisfied with life at the moment. Other than the ageing V40, which is due for replacement soon, every model in the Volvo range is competitive and comfortable.

Volvo XC40 review 2018 (The Car Expert)

Its safety reputation remains second to none, while the all-new XC40 crossover is reaching a new, younger demographic of customers who think Volvo is a cool brand.

8. Jaguar (up 4%)

With all the negative headlines about idling factories in recent months and this week’s announcement of 4,500 job cuts at JLR, it’s something of a surprise to see that Jaguar actually increased its sales by 4% last year.

Jaguar E-Pace wallpaper | The Car Expert

Even more surprising was that most of that growth came in the last six months, when the Castle Bromwich plant was being shut down due to lack of demand for the Jaguar XJ, XF, XE and F-Type models.

9. Kia (up 3%)

Another solid year for Kia, as it continues to be recognised by buyers as a mainstream manufacturer rather than just a budget brand. A new Kia is now generally considered to be “a good car” without having to add “… for the price.”

Kia Stinger header | The Car Expert

An ever-growing model range, exceptional value for money and a seven-year warranty are all proving to be attractive to new car buyers.

10. Mazda (up 1%)

At the half-way point of last year, Mazda was running 3% behind its 2017 score. However, the company turned that around in the last six months to end up 1% ahead of 2017, which was a good result.

Mazda MX-5 RF wallpaper | The Car Expert

With an all-new Mazda 3 family hatch arriving in 2019, and a strong range of cars across the board, Mazda continues to impress against much bigger names in the industry.

Continued on next page: The ten biggest losers of 2018

Stuart Masson
Stuart Masson
Stuart is the Editorial Director of our suite of sites: The Car Expert, The Van Expert and The Truck Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the automotive industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

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